Sunday, February 19, 2017

After 16 years, here's why the Pike 2 Bike Trail has never gotten off the ground

Since posting about the Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike, I started to do some digging on why there has been little to no progress on converting the highway into a multi-use trail.  Basically, it would be similar to the popular rail trails and greenways throughout the country.  We'll begin some background on when the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission sold 8.5 miles of what was once the Pennsylvania Turnpike to the Southern Alleghenies Conservancy (SAC) for one dollar.  The SAC's intentions were to convert the turnpike to a multi-use trail by preserving and adding lighting through the two tunnels (Rays and Sideling Hill), repaving at least 10' of the highway, creating trailheads, and more.

Sadly, in the sixteen years that have since passed, not much if anything has been done to either preserve the abandoned roadway or convert it to a multi-use trail.  Yet during this same time, numerous newspaper articles and features, websites, and blog entries about the abandoned turnpike has attracted more visitors to explore this old road.  However, as each year passes the old road continues to become more overgrown, the roadway and tunnels fall further in disrepair, and graffiti and minor vandalism is seen throughout.

So what happened?  Why has an idea and a project with great overall interest and visibility have so little done since 2001.  Well, it is slightly complicated.  But it comes down to a lack of leadership and direction, political concerns over economic impact, and lack of fundraising that has left the old highway no different than it was when the transfer agreement was made.

The Southern Alleghenies Conservancy took over the abandoned turnpike in November of 2001.  They wisely admitted that their overall goals to preserve and convert the turnpike to a multi-use trail would be an expensive and time consuming undertaking.  From 2002 - 2005, the SAC did provide updates on fundraising and overall progress of the project.

In 2002, SAC was developing contacts and making their initial plans in seeking funds and applying for grants.  Initial grant applications and local business sponsorships were generally unsuccessful.  The SAC had begun to identify various safety and improvement concerns, such as tree removals and storm drain clearing.

In 2003 and 2004, grant funding and some donations began to funnel into the project.  In 2003, the SAC received $35,000 from the USDA Rural Development Grant, and they would later receive $20,000 in form of a matching grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Culture and Natural Resources Heritage Parks Program.  They would also be awarded a $70,000 transportation enhancement grant from the Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission.  This grant was to help build a trailhead at the Eastern (Fulton County) edge of the trail.  Also, during this time the SAC was working with the PA Game Commission and other state agencies to reduce vandalism on the abandoned highway.

Much of the fundraising was done to help develop a master plan.  The master plan would eventually be developed by Ganett Fleming and released in May of 2006.  This plan estimated the cost of conversion to be at about $3.05 million over eight stages and ten years.  The old turnpike would see the westbound lanes converted to a path that would allow walking and horses w/carriages, the former 10 foot center median would become a natural trail for horseback riding, and the former eastbound lanes would become a paved 10' multi use trail with one foot shoulders on each side.  The remaining width of the eastbound lanes would be reclaimed by nature.

2006 Master Plan proposed cross section of the Pike 2 Bike Trail.  (Gannett Fleming)

Two trailheads, western at US 30 in Breezewood, eastern at the former Cove Valley Travel Plaza, would be constructed.  The tunnels would be stabilized and lit, bathroom facilities, and interpretive signage added.

It appears that the release of this master plan is what halted any progress in the highway's conversion to a multi-use trail.  Fulton County Commissioners were not receptive to the plan as they contended that though 85% of the trail would be within Fulton County, that most of the tourism dollars would be spend in Bedford County at Breezewood.  Breezewood already had amenities such as food, gas and lodging right near the proposed western trailhead access site.  After reviewing the 2006 Gannett Fleming proposal, the Fulton County Commissioners decided against participating or allocating any funds to the Pike 2 Bike project. (1)

Since 2006 - Lost in the Wilderness:

It seems that Fulton County's lack of support for the Pike 2 Bike, lack luster fundraising and grant awarding, and disinterest at the Southern Alleghenies Conservancy is what caused this once hopeful project to be shelved.  In 2007, the SAC website was taken down, and the SAC since conceded that it could not handle the project on its own. (2)

In 2014, a Pittsburgh based company called, Fourth Economy, completed their own study of the route.  The consulting firm proposed a number of different management and conversion scenarios.  The management/fundraising scenarios are as follows:
  1. A new non-profit agency created to carry on with the project and ownership going forward
  2. Returning the ownership of the land to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
  3. A separate county partnership
  4. A joint municipal authority
Bedford County Planning Commission Directory Donald Schwartz considered the joint municipal authority as the best way to fund raise and quickest to complete. (2)  Fourth Economy also had three different proposals on the cost to convert the abandoned turnpike to Pike 2 Bike.  They are:

  1. "Safety First" - This plan would stabilize the tunnels, provide access and basic amenities at two trail heads handling approximately 25,000 annual visitors.  The cost was estimated at $3.28 million.
  2. "Family Friendly" - Along with the tunnel stabilization and safety improvements.  This would resurface the turnpike for a multi-use trail.  It would also include digging wells for water along the route, restrooms, signage, a "Midway Rest Area", benches, landscaping, and a solar charing area.  The cost of this would be $4.29 million.
  3. "Complete Connection" - This would include all items above and would connect the trail to other bike and hiking trails in the area along with the construction of a nature preserve within Fulton County.  Also a historical museum would be built at the Fulton County trailhead.  This plan would also allow for specialty vehicle access via an additional trailhead.  Cost - $6.27 million.  This plan estimates 225,000 visitors per year.
All three of these plans would see Fulton County do the majority of the investing and an aggressive time schedule.  The hope would be to have it completed over two years. (3)  Fulton County has continued to be skeptical of the overall economic impact in regards to any investment that they make to the project.  The concern remains that Breezewood with the tourism amenity infrastructure in place will see the most of the economic impact of such a trail. (1) Since the 2014 study and public hearings on the Fourth Economy study, there has not been any new news on the project.

In the meantime, the abandoned turnpike is still being accessed by thousands annually.  A private company called Grouseland Tours offers guided tours and bike rentals for the Pike 2 Bike.   But sadly due to the lack of an agreed upon plan, leadership or fund raising, the abandoned turnpike continues to fall into further overgrowth and disrepair.  Unfortunately, with each passing year the cost and effort needed to make the abandoned turnpike match the original 2001 vision of the Southern Alleghenies Conservancy increases and the chances of something being done smaller.

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Icelandic Highways & Byways (Part 1)

From time to time, I do have the opportunity to travel internationally. Our world has so much to offer both domestically and abroad that I like to take any chance I can get to see different places. So when the opportunity arose to travel to Iceland with some friends in September and October 2016, I jumped for the chance to go. I got to see geysers, volcanoes, waterfalls, black sand beaches, the geothermal pools that Iceland is famous for, plus I spent a week using Iceland's capital city of Reykjavik as a home base. I also got to take plenty of road photos during my travels as well. This series will focus more on the road aspect of Iceland, but I will be including some photos of the places I saw along the way as well.

This first part of this Icelandic Highways and Byways series will focus on the roads around Reykjavik, with the first set of photos being from Sæbraut, which is part of Iceland Route 41 that eventually makes its way down to the Keflavik International Airport. Keflavik is where most international travelers first set foot on Icelandic soil.
Seltjarnarnes is a suburb of Reykjavik. As for the signage, I am told that it is based of Danish sign designs, but uses British Transport font.
Making my way down Sæbraut. You may notice the sign denoting that tractors are not allowed on the road during rush hour periods. I'm pretty sure that Reykjavik is the only world capital that has to advertise this restriction.
Solfar, or the Sun Voyager. You will see this sculpture on the side of the road along Sæbraut.
Standing in the median, looking at Harpa (a concert hall).
Looking at Sæbraut from Harpa.
Iceland Route 41 is not the only numbered highway that serves Reykjavik. Iceland Route 1 (the Ring Road around Iceland --- you'll hear more about this road later on), Iceland Route 40 and Iceland Route 49 are also important thoroughfares in and around the capital city.

Along Iceland Route 49, which serves as both a motorway and expressway in portions.
This might just be Iceland's only single point interchange, as seen from Iceland Route 49.
Petrol was expensive in Iceland, but diesel was a little less expensive. There didn't seem to be much variation in prices around the country either. You'd be expecting to pay the equivalent of about $6 USD per gallon.
Along Iceland Route 40.
Still along Iceland Route 40. Despite being a very old city in a country that has seen financial difficulties, there is a fair share of newer buildings that has been constructed in Reykjavik.
On Iceland Route 1 (Ring Road) starting to head out of Reykjavik. The route is a lot like this until you reach the road that splits off for the Golden Circle.
Iceland has lots of roundabouts.
Finally, a few interesting, yet random road photos around Reykjavik itself.
Old and new styles of signing streets in Reykjavik. The old style is typical of what you would find around Europe, as in street blade signs affixed to the side of a building. The newer style is a little more typical of what you would see in North America. During some of my other travels in Europe (Denmark and London, more specifically), street signs more low lying and not at eye level, which made things a little more difficult to navigate, even on foot.
Reykjavik's domestic airport is located just outside of downtown, so it is common to see planes taking off and landing in the city.
A wayfinding sign in the Reykjavik Harbor area.
Since English is the de facto second language of Iceland, you'll see plenty of English being used. I never really encountered much of a language barrier in Iceland, even outside Reykjavik. I only picked up a few Icelandic words while visiting, such as "takk", which is Icelandic for "thanks".
Approaching Perlan (the domed building in the distance).


This is it for the first installment of my Icelandic highways and byways post. I also traveled around the Golden Circle, and also southeast, southwest and north of Reykjavik, which will be featured in the future. I hope that you enjoyed this little visit to Reykjavik.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Meadville's PennDOT Road Sign Scultpture Garden

The PennDOT Road Sign Scultpture Garden in Meadville, Pennsylvania is a joint public art project between PennDOT and Allegheny College that began in 2002 to give a distinct look to Meadville's gateway from the west. Using recycled signs and tires, it is truly one of a kind. The sign garden is located at a Meadville PennDOT residency at US 6, US 19 and US 322's junction with PA 102, east of Interstate 79 and west of downtown Meadville. I've had a few occasions to check out the sign sculpture garden myself and I fully endorse recycling signs in this manner. It's a nice little stop to stretch your legs. I took the following pictures in September 2007.

One of the first parts of the project, and what you'll notice first if you are coming from the west, is the Signs and Flowers part of the art exhibit. This is also next to where you would likely park your car if you wanted to stop and take a look around.


It's a flower garden... of signs.

Blooming sign flower.

Blooming sign flower.

There's also a wall of signs called the Read Between the Signs mural that is alongside the highway as well which is worth checking out. 1200 feet of signs in all from what I'm told.

Gives you a little perspective on how tall the signs are.

And how long the sign wall goes on for.

Up, up and away!

Ferris Wheel.

Do 6!

Signs in the weeds.

Signs about town.


Some other articles about the sign garden...
http://sites.allegheny.edu/news/2014/09/24/kaleidoscope-public-art-abounds-in-meadville/
http://uncoveringpa.com/penndot-road-sign-sculpture-garden-meadville
https://pittsburghorbit.com/2015/08/26/the-meadville-penndot-road-sign-sculptures-part-2-the-flower-garden/

Also, see my complete set of photos from the sign garden on Flickr.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Breezewood in the Fall....The Abandoned PA Turnpike

Editor's Note: Bernie Newman's Breezewood in the Fall was the first real feature that I had on my fledgling website in late 1999.  It was also one of the first online features about the abandoned turnpike and its tunnels.  From November 1999 to about 2003-04, I would receive numerous e-mails about the tunnels and accessing the old roadway as a result of Mr. Newman's work.  Today, there are numerous webpages and social media groups devoted to this abandoned stretch of highway.  

In 1968, The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission successfully completed a bypass of two tunnels - Sideling and Ray's Hill - one service plaza - Cove Valley - and nearly 13 miles of roadway.  Since then this forgotten section of road has been a destination point for turnpike enthusiasts, hikers and bicyclists, curiosity seekers, and the Turnpike Commission itself.  The abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike serves as a living history of the nearly 80 year old highway.  

The Breezewood Interchange incorporates a small segment of the old Turnpike alignment - serving as a connector route for Interstate 70 from the Turnpike to the Town of Motels.  It is just prior to the connector's interchange with US 30 that the abandoned section of the turnpike begins.

This where the former alignment of the PA Turnpike begins - just prior the ramps at the Breezewood Interchange (Bernie Newman)
The former ramps of the Breezewood Interchange.  Like nearly all turnpike interchanges, the original Breezewood interchange was of a trumpet design. (Bernie Newman)

 
What would have been the Breezewood interchange ramps going underneath the turnpike. (Bernie Newman) 

What was most likely the last of the original turnpike guardrail. (Bernie Newman)
Another view of the original interchange ramps and cement median from the former Turnpike overpass. (Bernie Newman)
Beyond the former Breezewood Interchange is 13 miles of the old turnpike.  In 2001, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission sold nearly all of the former alignment to the Southern Alleghenies Conservancy for $1.  THe Conservancy's goal was to convert the abandoned Turnpike into a bike trail.  However, in the over 15 years since that transaction there has been minimal progress towards that goal.  The Pike 2 Bike Trail is "unofficially" open and all users travel at their own risk.

Old turnpike bridge over US 30. The PTC actually painted the bridge in the 1980s, the bridge would be demolished in 2005. (Bernie Newman)
The bridge in the photo above once carried the abandoned turnpike over US 30.  The Turnpike Commission dismantled this bridge - along with a similar overpass at Pump Station Road - to eliminate the liability and expense in maintaining the two structures and also to restrict access to parts of the abandoned Turnpike still owned by the PTC.  As a result, an ad hoc parking lot off of nearby Tannery Rd. was built for trail access.

Looking East on the abandoned Turnpike towards Ray's Hill. (Bernie Newman)
The western portal of Ray's Hill Tunnel. When compared to Bill Symon's photo of this same entrance in 1981 - the 'RAYS HILL' lettering above the entrance is gone and graffiti is much more prevalent.  (Bernie Newman)
The short distance allows for you to see the "Light at the end of the tunnel".  I am guessing that the double yellow line in this photo was from a PTC paint test. (Bernie Newman)
Most likely an original streetlight near the western entrance of Ray's Hill Tunnel. (Bernie Newman)
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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike Tunnels in the early 1980s

During the Fall of 1981 and the Summer of 1982, Bill Symons explored the three former single tube tunnels of the Pennsylvania Turnpike System.  At that time, the tunnels - Laurel Hill, Ray's Hill, and Sideling Hill - had been abandoned for over 10 years.  Since then, these three once busy passageways have been explored by many Turnpike, road, adventure, and outdoor enthusiasts.  What is unique about these photos from 35 years ago is that many of the original artifacts (lettering and lane stripping) still existed at the entrances to the three tunnels.  With the widespread popularity of abandoned Turnpike exploration, these photos capture the exterior of the abandoned tunnels closer to their operable form than they are today.

I am pleased to share with you Bill's photos as part of the blog's Pennsylvania Turnpike Collection.  These photos show the abandoned tunnels and roadways of the PA Turnpike with 35 years less of decay and vandalism.  But at the same time, it is truly amazing that after nearly 50 years of quiet abandonment that these small forgotten ribbons of highway have kept a remarkable form that serves as a living history of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Laurel Hill Tunnel:
Bypassed in 1964, the Laurel Hill Tunnel, located in Westmoreland County, was the first tunnel to be bypassed on the turnpike system.  Of the three abandoned turnpike tunnels, the Laurel Hill Tunnel is the forgotten one.  Located in remote southeastern Westmoreland County, the tunnel stood proud among overgrowth and fill when Bill visited the location in the Fall of 1981 and in the Summer of 1982.

Laurel Hill's west portal in the fall of 1981.  Asphalt fill blocked the westbound lane and the entrance to the tunnel.  'Laurel Hill' still stands at the tunnel's entrance. (Bill Symons)

Entrance to the eastern portal of the Laurel Hill Tunnel, Summer 1982.  This is an excellent example of how narrow the roadway becomes upon entering the tunnel.  Also of note is the concrete retaining wall running to the entrance. (Bill Symons)
Ray's Hill Tunnel:
Ray's Hill Tunnel along with nearby Sideling Hill Tunnel was bypassed in 1968.  The turnpike opened 13 miles of new tunnel less roadway on October 30th of that year.  The tunnel's length was relatively short at 2,532 feet.  Because of its short length, Ray's Hill was the only tunnel built with one set of exhaust fans.  The eastern portal was erected of stone and concrete but minus the exhaust fans that existed on the western end. 

Looking west and exiting the tunnel, Fall 1981.  Thirteen years dormant, the abandoned roadway is cracked and full of overgrowth. (Bill Symons)

The narrowing lanes of the westbound Turnpike approaching the western portal of Ray's Hill Tunnel. (Bill Symons)

Entrance to the western portal of Ray's Hill Tunnel.  By 1999, the letters were gone. (Bill Symons)
Looking east from the eastern portal of Ray's Hill Tunnel.  Ray's Hill Tunnel was only 2,532 in length and the light at the end of this short tunnel can be seen. (Bill Symons)
A side perspective of the exhaust fan less eastern portal of the tunnel.  Some of the letters had fallen off their mounts. (Bill Symons)
The former PA Turnpike exiting the eastern portal of the tunnel as viewed from the top of Ray's Hill. (Bill Symons)

Sideling Hill Tunnel:
The Sideling Hill Tunnel is the longest of the three abandoned tunnels at 6,782 feet.  It was also bypassed in 1968. 

The very narrow entrance to the eastern Sideling Hill tunnel portal, Summer 1982. (Bill Symons)
Exiting east of the Sideling Hill Tunnel and curving towards a reunion with the modern-day Turnpike. (Bill Symons)

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Monday, February 13, 2017

1950s PA Turnpike Post Card Collection

During most of its first two decades the Pennsylvania Turnpike was promoted and considered by many as "The Crown Jewel" of the American highway system.  The highway was spoken in magnificent terms and was touted as a modern example of safe, high speed, and scenic travel.  However, soon after the birth of the Interstate system in 1956, the PA Turnpike would become outdated in comparison to the more modern Interstate.  During the 1960s, the first of many changes would occur on the Turnpike to make the highway more compliant with Interstate standards.    

Today, with ongoing construction and heavy traffic, it is difficult to imagine the wonder and charm that the Turnpike had in its first 20 years.  The 1950s PA Turnpike Postcard Collection captures the original turnpike prior to the creation of the Interstate Highway System.  The 18 postcards below includes original captions found on the back of the linen cards from the early 1950s. 


The Greatest of all "Man Made Wonders" in this Twentieth Century is the Pennsylvania Turnpike, over whose surface tens of millions have traveled on business or pleasure since its opening to traffic October 1, 1940.

A beauty view of Pennsylvania's Turnpike from the mountains between Sideling Hill, the longest tunnel, a mile and a quarter and Ray's Hill, the shortest tunnel under the mountains, between McConnellsburg and Everett, Pa. Note: This segment of the Turnpike was bypassed in 1968.

One of the seven tunnels carrying the Turnpike beneath formidable mountains, six were inherited from the old rail project.  The interior view of the Allegheny tunnel, near New Baltimore and the entrance to the Tuscarora is shown.  Others at Laurel, Allegheny, Ray's Hill, Sideling Hill, Tuscarora, Kittatinny, Blue Mountain.

Last word in tunnel lighting is accomplished by soft sodium lights at the entrances and non-glaring, bluish-green mercury lights inside.

A view on the 327 mile super highway at Bedford, Pa.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike is the safest of all high-speed highways.  Not only is it the safest, but the smoothest and the most beautiful.

SERVING THE TURNPIKE TOURIST - Throughout the entire length of the Turnpike, Service Stations and Restaurants are located on both east and west bound lanes of the system at convenient intervals.  Each Service Station provides a Restaraunt and Daily Bar Service and many of them have table service where hungry motorists can have a variety of delicious meals as the dining service is under the direct supervision and management of the celebrated caterer Howard Johnson.

For 327 miles - not a stop sign or traffic light - not a cross road or street - no grade over three percent on this modern super highway which, instead of climbing over tall peaks of the Alleghenies, dives through them in seven well ventilated, well illuminated tunnels.

Kittatinny and Blue Mountain Tunnels are called the "Twin Tunnels" as there is only 800 feet of daylight between them; one of the many interesting sights along the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

The Blue Mountain Interchange on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

There are 24 Interchanges on the PennsylvaniaTurnpike - one at each end and 22 at intermediate points.  Each has an accelerating and decelerating lane which is adjacent and in addition to the regular highway lane.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike, five miles east of Bedford, crosses over the Lincoln Highway.  The two lane road looks antiquated.  Some distance past the Bedford "interchange" the Turnpike crosses the Lincoln Highway again, runs past the ruins of the historic iron works at Everett, then crosses the Lincoln for the last time.

Setting the style for highways of the future Pennsylvania's new super Turnpike is a model that will be hard to improve upon.  Its steepest grade is only 3%.

Allegheny River Bridge: The Turnpike has no crossings at grade.  There are a total of 652 crossings of all types either above or below grades.  Three of these crossings are of major proportion.  The Bridges spanning the Susquehanna, Beaver, and Allegheny Rivers.  The World's Greatest Highway.

MIDWAY STATION.  One of the deluxe service stations on the Penna. Turnpike, midway between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, Pa. at Bedford Interchange.

The Turnpike winding its way through the beautiful mountains of Pennsylvania along the World's Greatest Highway.

THE WORLD'S GREATEST HIGHWAY SYSTEM - The Pennsylvania Turnpike System was constructed originally to breach the barriers formed by the Appalachian Mountain range and to facilitate free rapid movement of transportation between great centers of industry and population.

Aerial view of the "Dream Highway" showing a 100 ft. high fill and the "Clear Ridge Cut."  Largest cut in the Eastern part of the U.S. and known as Little Panama.
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