Carl DeFebo
Manager, Media and Public Relations

C  O  M  M  I  S  S  I  O  N       N  E  W  S       R  E  L  E  A  S  E


Carl DeFebo
717-939-9551, ext. 2934

September 30 , 2005


Turnpike Marks 65 Years of Service and Safe Travel

HARRISBURG, PA. (Sept. 30, 2005) —The Pennsylvania Turnpike will reach a significant milestone when the historic toll road turns 65 years old this weekend. Known as America's First Superhighway, the original, 160-mile highway first opened to traffic just after midnight on Oct. 1, 1940.

On the evening of Sept. 30, 1940, long rows of cars and trucks lined up at the 11 toll plazas - or "ticket offices" - on the newly built Pennsylvania Turnpike. Motorists were swarming for the chance to be the first on the much-publicized roadway. Some waited at the tollbooths for days, and many came from out of state to see what was considered an unparalleled engineering triumph.

When it first opened to traffic, the Turnpike ran from Middlesex (near Carlisle) to Irwin (near Pittsburgh). "It broke new ground as the nation's first limited-access, four-lane highway with no stoplights, stop signs or cross traffic," said Joe Brimmeier, Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission CEO. "It cut three hours off the trip from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh."

The distinction of being America's First Superhighway is indeed an honor; but that legacy brings with it many unique challenges. "Our road is a safe road today, but it needs to be replaced. Our most pressing initiative, therefore, is the total reconstruction of the Turnpike," Brimmeier said. "It marks the first time in its history that the road is being totally excavated, from the dirt up, and replaced with an all-new roadway."

When it was constructed in the late 1930s, road-building technology consisted of pouring 9 inches of reinforced concrete on top of compacted earth. "Today, we quadruple that with about a three-foot thick layer cake of road-building material making up a typical cross-section," Brimmeier explained.

The Commission will spend nearly $2 billion in the coming decade to renew the toll road in 5-10 mile sections at a time at a cost of about $10 million per mile. (In comparison, the original Turnpike cost just $475,000 per mile to construct - or $76 million in total.) The rebuilt sections, besides being smoother and wider, feature improved slopes and curves, a wider median, all new bridges, and improvements to the interchanges and on and off ramps as well.

Legacy of 'The Tunnel Highway'

As it was being built in 1938-1939, the focal point of the Turnpike was construction of seven tunnels through Pennsylvania's mountains - a feat that was considered an engineering marvel. The Turnpike was a transportation revolution largely because of its unprecedented design standards; these engineering principles were groundbreaking in that they considered the comfort and convenience of the driver over the difficulty of terrain or construction method. This was no easy task considering the mountainous terrain with narrow, twisting river valleys on which the road was built.

Nowhere in the nation was there a road comparable to it. During the Turnpike's early years, travelers, mesmerized with the unique concept of long-distance, nonstop travel, hopped into their vehicles, picnic baskets in tow, and onto the Turnpike for the fun of the ride - often doing so without a specific destination in mind. The highway forever changed the way Americans traveled. Indeed, the engineering concepts developed on the Pennsylvania Turnpike were the foundation for a national transportation network that would touch the lives of every American: The Interstate Highway System, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in June, 2006.

During its first year of operation, 2.7 million vehicles traveled the Pennsylvania Turnpike. "Last year, nearly 189 million vehicles traveled the highway," Brimmeier said. "These numbers alone speak volumes about the progress and success of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, whose founders likely could never have conceived such staggering traffic-volume increases."

Originally, the 160-mile long toll road was made up of 11 interchanges, 11 service plazas and four maintenance facilities. The Turnpike today operates and maintains 531 miles of toll road throughout PA. It oversees 57 fare-collection facilities (including traditional interchanges as well as coin-drop and barrier-style toll plazas), 21 service plazas and 27 maintenance facilities across the state. With 2,330 full-time employees, the Commission generates roughly $410 million in annual toll revenues with traffic volumes approaching 190 million vehicles per year.

In recent years, the Turnpike has stepped up endeavors to enrich the roadway through technology. This investment in technology touches every aspect of operations - most importantly, service to and convenience of customers. Initiatives such as the Advanced Traveler Information System (ATIS) that collects and communicates information about traffic and weather conditions and the Turnpike web site ( are visible examples of this investment in technology. As we face the challenges of the digital age, that same pioneering spirit continues to prevail. When it comes to innovations in transportation, the Turnpike remains on the cutting edge.

"Electronic toll collection technology - known as E-ZPass - is the present and the future of the Pennsylvania Turnpike," Brimmeier observed. "It has enabled us to process more and more vehicles without having to enlarge our interchanges, and has provided hundreds of thousands of motorists with an easier, more convenient way to pay tolls."

Since the launch of E-ZPass in December 2000, the program has experienced exceptional growth. The Turnpike presently manages 430,000 E-ZPass accounts with 710,000 active transponders, or "tags," in use. The Commission logs 6 million E-ZPass transactions a month (or 200,000 daily). On average, nearly half of all toll transactions are E-ZPass transactions. In fact, at nine of the Turnpike's busiest Southeastern Pennsylvania interchanges, E-ZPass motorists now account for more than 60 percent of traffic during morning rush hour.

"To ensure that the popularity of E-ZPass continues its phenomenal expansion, we are totally committed to making frequent upgrades and enhancements to the system," Brimmeier said. "We have recently added more E-ZPass lanes, we are now installing additional E-ZPass Express Lanes, and we are making other improvements such as added functionality to the E-ZPass web site."

 "Today, our commitment to the safety, comfort and convenience of our customers remains as strong and focused as it was 65 years ago," Brimmeier concluded.


P.O. Box 67676, Harrisburg, PA 17106-7676      Phone: (717) 939-9551     Fax: (717) 986-9649