When the Pennsylvania Turnpike first opened for business on October 1, 1940 it was known as the "tunnel highway" because travelers had to drive through seven tunnels as they made their way along the length of the Turnpike from Carlisle to Irwin, PA.
The Allegheny Tunnel, located between the Somerset and Bedford interchanges, is one of four original tunnels still in service. From 1940 until 1966 the Allegheny Tunnel consisted of only one tube, limiting traffic to just one lane in each direction. The second Allegheny Tunnel opened on March 16, 1965 and the original tunnel closed for renovation. On August 25, 1966 the refurbished original tunnel opened and for the first time four lanes of traffic flowed through the Allegheny Mountain.
Now, Turnpike engineers are considering the future of the Allegheny Tunnel as they look to meeting the transportation needs of the early 21st Century. The original northern tunnel is again in need of repair. However, due to the increase in traffic volumes since the early 1960s, it is not feasible to close one of the tunnels and limit traffic to two lanes while extensive renovations are performed.
A team of Turnpike engineers has been working in conjunction with L. Robert Kimball & Associates of Ebensburg, PA on the Allegheny Tunnel Transportation Improvement Project. The task force has been trying to determine whether a new tunnel should be built, or whether the Allegheny Mountain should be by-passed much like the Sideling Hill and Rays Hill tunnels were by-passed in the late 1960s.
According to Neil T. Raup, the Turnpike engineer spearheading the project, the study team has narrowed the options down to five potential alignments, including two locations for a possible new tunnel, and three alignments that would eliminate the Allegheny Tunnels by cutting a new path through the mountain.
The five remaining alternatives were presented to local elected officials and to the public during meetings held in June. Engineers will now perform a detailed environmental and engineering study on the five alternatives and arrive at a recommended route by the summer of 1999.
"Once we have determined a preferred alternative we will present all the data we have collected to the public and get their input," Raup explained. "Well also be meeting with various state and federal environmental agencies to explain the preferred alternative and to get their input before making a final decision."
Once one alternative has been selected work will begin on final design. Although a target date has not yet been established for work to begin, it is likely the Allegheny Tunnel Transportation Improvement Project will be the first major project to be undertaken by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission in the 21st Century.