We’ll forgive Apple Maps for still showing PA 299 since it was only decommissioned in 2011 with the exception of the bridge over the Norfolk Southern rail line.
An article in the May 3, 1961 edition of the Washington Observer on the many route changes that would be taking place that year in southwestern Pennsylvania. Several of them included PA 80 and its “child” routes 180, 480, and 680 that were eliminated due to conflicts with Interstate designations. The State Highways section of the website has the histories of these decommissioned routes, and the cover of the 1961 map, that is mentioned, can be seen on the Official State Highway Maps page.
While the Liberty Tunnel does not have a posted route number, it is designated as SR 3069.
March 7, 1939: Liberty Tubes come to life
The arrival of the age of the automobile nearly a century ago prompted local leaders to improve transportation to the growing South Hills.
In 1919, Allegheny County commissioners decided to bore twin tubes through the base of Mt. Washington to create the Liberty Tunnels. The project cost $6 million. In today’s dollars, that figure would be $82 million.
When they opened in 1924, the Liberty Tunnels were the longest auto tunnels in the world. Each tunnel is more than 5,000 feet long and 26 feet wide. About 400,000 cubic yards of earth and rock were excavated to build them.
The Liberty Tunnels (a lot of us call them the Liberty Tubes) were hailed as a boon to South Hills residents who no longer had to detour around the city but could drive directly to Downtown. Even horse-drawn vehicles were allowed to use the tunnels but were finally banned in 1932. That same year, about 25,000 cars passed through the tunnels daily. By 2000, that figure had risen to more than 63,000 vehicles each day.
The Liberty Bridge, which cost $3.4 million, opened in 1928.
In a 1975 article published in The Pittsburgh Press, transportation reporter Joe Grata observed that the Liberty Tunnels were “inadequate, dangerous and obsolete almost from the first day cars and horses passed through them.”
The tunnels underwent a $7.2 million rehabilitation in 1975. The road bed was widened by one foot to 22 feet and about 3,000 fluorescent lights were installed in each tunnel.
This year, motorists have watched the fourth phase of renovations, a project that began in 2008. This fourth phase, which costs $18.8 million, will restore the entry facades at both ends to very much how they looked when the tunnels opened in 1924. The tunnels’ interiors will be finished in a washable white surface.
(Top photograph: New lights and tile were added to the tubes in 1939. Photo credit: Unknown)
If you wanted to enjoy nature in beautiful Crooked Creek State Park, you could take PA 359. However, much like the state park, the route is no more as it was decommissioned in 1981.
Dec. 12, 1964: "The Bridge to Nowhere"
The Fort Duquesne Bridge now serves as a connection between Downtown and the North Side, spanning the Allegheny River. But that wasn’t always the case.
The bridge’s main span was finished in 1963. However, according to an article in The Pittsburgh Press, “red tape and governmental disagreement” kept it from being completed for several more years, earning it the nickname “The Bridge to Nowhere.”
"Police estimated the uncompleted bridge stands about 100 feet over the Allegheny River while the dropoff is about 90 feet from the shoreline — measured straight ahead."
To prevent people from driving across the bridge and plunging to their death, barricades were set up at the Downtown side of the bridge and at the end of the span.
But that didn’t stop a daredevil Pitt student from attempting a “flight” from the end of the bridge to the North Shore.
On December 12, 1964, Frederick Williams, 21, of Basking Ridge, N.J. — a senior majoring in chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh — crashed through the barriers and raced across the span, his station wagon flying through space and landing upside down at the water’s edge.
Mr. Williams pulled himself from the wreckage, “shaken but unscathed.” He was taken to Allegheny General Hospital, where he was examined and released. According to the Pittsburgh Press article, he offered no explanation for his historic leap.
In the wake of the incident, the State Highways Department vowed to replace the broken barricades.
John S. Yard, assistant district engineer for the department, seemed dumbfounded.
"We didn’t think it was possible to do anything like that," he said.
For more on the Fort Duquesne Bridge and to explore the history of other bridges along the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh, check out the Post-Gazette’s interactive, with videos and photos from our archives.
(Photos: From the Heinz History Center, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development Collection)
For more on the Fort Duquesne Bridge, including pictures of its construction, see http://www.pahighways.com/interstates/I279.html
June 1953: "The Squirrel Hill Tunnel opens"
This year there won’t be any 60th birthday celebrations for the tunnel Pittsburghers love to hate. Instead, the Squirrel Hill Tunnel has been a maze of bad news for local motorists: closures … detours … construction …When was the last week the Post-Gazette didn’t run a story about the Squirrel Hill Tunnel creating an inconvenience for drivers?
In Pittsburgh traffic lore, the Squirrel Hill Tunnel has become an epitome of congestion and frustration. “Its negatives,” as a reporter of the Post-Gazette once put it, “are as well known to the region as your basic Western Pennsylvania pothole.”
But 60 years ago, it was a Herculean task accompli, one of the state’s biggest construction jobs ever. The goal of building the tunnel was to cut the time of commute by 66 percent for those driving Downtown from Pittsburgh’s eastern suburbs. Officials in Wilkinsburg, Edgewood and other suburbs lobbied for the project since 1920s. In 1948, the design of the tunnel was approved.
Reports at the time said that 400,000 cubic yards of material were removed, with crews of 20 men blasting their way through the limestone and shale on three shifts a day. According to the Post-Gazette, “They moved forward at a rate of about eight feet a day, which represented a slowdown after residents above and nearby complained that their walls were shaking and cracking.” Workers likened the work on the tunnel to a coal mine because of the noise, the blasting, the dust. It was terrible. Three workers were killed in accidents during the tunnel construction.
The 4,225-foot tunnel opened June 5, 1953. The cost of the project at that time was $18 million.
Just a decade after the Squirrel Hill Tunnel opened, the population growth was accelerating in the eastern suburbs and traffic backups of two to three miles became quite common. In 1993, the problem persisted. The Squirrel Hill Tunnel gave motorists regular headaches…. just like today. While approaching the other tunnels in Pittsburgh, you only guess if the traffic is going to be bad and hope you’re surprised. With the Squirrel Hill Tunnel, you never hope.
The Squirrel Hill Tunnel is ‘celebrating’ its 60th birthday under construction this year. Its ceiling is being raised to prevent trucks from crashing into it.
When it’s back in full operation, the Squirrel Hill Tunnel is likely to remain the tunnel Pittsburghers love to hate, but it has some cool attributes too. So, listen up, before honking out loud…. to FM broadcasting, for example. Carnegie Mellon students designed a system that enables motorists to access uniform FM coverage throughout the tunnel by capturing radio signals from outside the tunnel and re-amplifying them through a wire which spans the entire length of the tunnel.
The Squirrel Hill Tunnel also shares its birthday with a well-known Pittsburgher: Rick Sebak.
For more on the Squirrel Hill Tunnel, see http://www.pahighways.com/interstates/I376.html.
“The Pennsylvania Turnpike”
It starred in films and singers mentioned it in songs. The Pennsylvania Turnpike is the grandfather of the American Interstate Highway System. Film crews came from all over the world and captured different stretches of one of the oldest American highways. It appears in a famous Russian film “Brat 2.” In the middle of the film, a sign “Pennsylvania Welcomes You,” signed “Tom Ridge, Governor” would have been familiar to those who traveled along the turnpike in 1998. In 2009, the producers of Cormack McCarthy’s “The Road” also used the Pennsylvania Turnpike as a backdrop for the film.
“Pennsylvania Turnpike, I love you so,
All the way from Jersey, to Oh-Hi-Oh.
Oh how I go for the beautiful mountains, and the fields of grass,
And the friendly road staff, where we even can get gas.
Pennsylvania Turnpike, how I love you,
And when I pay my toll fare, don’t yer love me too.
Now I’m up in Somerset, and snow plowing ain’t come yet,
Pennsylvania Turnpike, I’m stuck on you.”
The vacation season is upon us and as much as no one would want you to get stuck on the turnpike, we know for sure that Pennsylvania drivers will drive along that venerable highway during their long-distance road adventures. They might even sing along, “Pennsylvania Turnpike, I love you so…” Or maybe not.
In any case, with a song or not, the Pennsylvania Turnpike was the first roadway in the United States, and the second in the world, after German Autobahn, that had no cross streets, no railroad crossings and no traffic lights over its entire length. It was completed in 1940 and established a milestone and high standard for automobile travel in the United States.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike originally was conceived as a railroad project in the 1880s. William Vanderbilt and Andrew Carnegie, who at the time were building a railroad from Harrisburg west to Pittsburgh, saw the Allegheny Mountains as a barrier for trade. So building a railroad, from an economic standpoint, seemed like a good idea. The railroad had seven tunnels, which at the time was quite special. Yet, the work on the railroad stopped in 1885 because Vanderbilt went bankrupt. Only 50 years later, the work resumed with a shifted focus and mission.
In 1910, with growth of the American auto industry and a growing clout of the automobile lobby, a decision was made to convert the abandoned railroad into a motorway. The implementation of the plan took some time, though. In 1937, the governor of Pennsylvania created the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. President Franklin Roosevelt fully supported the initiative; he saw the opportunity to use the turnpike project to lower unemployment through the Works Project Administration, one of the most important agencies established as part of The New Deal.
When the construction plan was completed in 1938, 155 construction companies and 15,000 workers from 18 states were employed by the Turnpike Commission.
Today, in its sixth decade of operation the Pennsylvania Turnpike is one of the safest highways in the U.S. Also, it has changed significantly from what it was in 1940. The original 160-mile route has been expanded to 514 miles and is carrying 156.2 million vehicles per year at a toll of 10.6 cents per mile. Get your E-ZPasses ready.
“Oh, Pennsylvania Turnpike, how I love you,
And when I pay my toll fare, don’t yer love me too…”
Safe travels this summer, folks! Enjoy the ride!
For more on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, see http://www.pahighways.com/toll/PATurnpike.html.
Circa 1930: “Gridlock on the nation’s most expensive road”
Famous American streets include Broadway in New York City, Chicago’s fashionable Michigan Avenue, Nevada’s long strip of casinos on Las Vegas Boulevard and California’s Sunset Boulevard.
As part of his Pittsburgh Plan of 1911, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. designed the Boulevard of the Allies. The new roadway linked Downtown with Oakland and was dedicated on Veteran’s Day in 1922. Its name honors the allies who supported the United States in defeating Germany during World War I.
When it was built during the 1920s, the boulevard was the most expensive road in the history of the world because each mile cost $1.6 million. Pittsburgh Mayor Edward Vose Babcock dismissed warnings about the potential dangers of constructing a highway on a hillside called the Duquesne Bluff.
“It is anchored in the bedrock of the hill and it will be as immutable as the hills themselves, and as permanent,” Mayor Babcock insisted. Time, erosion, weather and progress would conspire to prove him wrong.
At first, Model Ts clogged the boulevard at rush hour. Later, cars with rounder, sleeker bodies flew across Grant Street and up the ramp that still offers a fine view of the Monongahela River and the city’s South Side.
More than 30 years after Mayor Babcock’s remark, construction of the Parkway East and erosion weakened the road, turning its underbelly into a boulevard of broken rocks. In the mid-1950s, tens of thousands of tons of earth were excavated from the hill’s base so the state could build the Parkway East, located below the boulevard.
On April 27, 1978, an early morning landslide sent 500 cubic yards of shale and sandstone tumbling onto the Parkway East, injuring a motorist. Seven years later, in March of 1985, the state Department of Transportation announced it would spend $2 million to shore up the boulevard’s structural stability. That work was done to prevent more rocks and earth from falling onto the Parkway East.
Despite the difficulties in maintaining the highway, it still evokes an era suffused with patriotism. Flanking the boulevard at Grant Street are two fluted granite memorial columns topped by American eagles clasping a globe. A figure of Liberty, chiseled into each pedestal, is surrounded by flags, eagle wings, the oak, the laurel and the eternal flame. Frank Vittor, a prolific local sculptor, created the columns.
Not trying to steal the thunder of The Amazing iOS 6 Maps, but I will show some of the errors found in Apple Maps with respect to Pennsylvania’s highways.
Thanks to Pennsylvania Highways’ contributor Adam Prince for the heads up on this one. PA 71 was the main route between Greensburg and Washington before US 119 and Interstate 70 supplanted it in 1964.