Skip to main content

An end of a simpler time - Steps to the Church on the PA Turnpike to be removed

The nearly 70-year old Pennsylvania Turnpike has many quirks that you can't find on a modern freeway today. Large motorist pulloffs, numerous tunnels, a service plaza with a tunnel underneath the highway are some of the unique features that add to the Turnpike's lure. However, one unique piece that has been a special spiritual gem for many motorists will soon be removed.

The two sets of steps that allow motorists to access St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in New Baltimore will be removed by 2009 in a Turnpike upgrading and widening project.

The steps to the church were part of what is now believed to be a verbal agreement between the Church and the Turnpike in the late 1930s. In exchange for church land, the Turnpike built two sets of stairs -- one on each side of the highway -- to allow motorists access to the Church. For over 65 years, countless travelers -- including myself -- have stopped for mass or just to look around out of curiosity.

For more: Johnstown (PA) Tribune Democrat, "Turnpike changes bring end to church steps."
Holy Turnpike! - A photo essay on St. John's the Baptist Catholic Church has photos I and others have taken from visits there.

Commentary:

This is a bittersweet loss for the Turnpike. As a result of making much needed upgraded and widening to the highway, one of the most unique and to many people extremely special features of the turnpike will be lost. Over the course of the six years that I have had a feature on St. John's Church, I have received numerous e-mails of people asking about when masses are or sharing stories of their experiences of the church. I was lead to this story from a visitor's e-mail.

Many are upset by the upcoming loss of access to the Church. Sadly, it is necessary for safety of motorists and those who have parked their cars there. Although, there have not been any - to my knowledge - accidents because of vehicles pulled over to visit the Church, a number of years ago a deadly accident at another motorist pull-off caused closure of nearly half of the pull off areas.

Are there any compromises? I doubt it. The only one that can be possible is that the Turnpike build an interchange at New Baltimore. New Baltimore sits nearly in the middle of a 36 mile stretch between the Bedford and Somerset exits. An interchange would break up the lengthy 36 mile distance between interchanges, allow the village of New Baltimore access to the Turnpike, and motorists access to the Church.

I'd like to thank the visitor's to my feature on the Church for scooping me onto this story. I plan to learn more about it and keep you all informed.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Relief Route That Wasn't: The Never Built I-70 Bypass in the Mid-Mon Valley

In June 1963, a small blurb in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette read that The Westmoreland Engineering Company was awarded a $24,060 bid to study the proposed construction of Interstate 70 in Westmoreland and Washington Counties.  The study was to see what the construction and right-of-way costs "...to modernize the existing highway to Interstate requirements within eight months." (1)  This small, non-attributed, three paragraph article came less than a decade after the completion of a four lane highway that linked the Mid-Mon Valley to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. This would be the start of a 15 year process to upgrade and improve Interstate 70 - a process that ultimately never produced a single foot of new highway.

This is the story, albeit brief, of the I-70 that never came about.

Background:
What is now known as Interstate70 from Washington to New Stanton began as a connecting highway for the region to the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  Known as the "Express Highway", construct…

The Many Failed Plans of Pittsburgh's Wabash Bridge and Tunnel

The December 27, 2004 opening of the Wabash Tunnel ended over 70 years of proposals and speculation for the use of the over 100 year old facility.  The tunnel, which is now a reversible roadway that is an alternative route for rush hour traffic, saw many failed plans during the 20th Century.  These plans included options for mass transit, converted and new bridges for vehicles, and other forms of transportation.

Brief History:
Constructed in 1902-04, the Wabash Bridge and Tunnel was planned and financed by rail mogul, Jay Gould.  Gould began his "Battle of the Wabash" with the established railroads of the city in 1890.  He would finally emerge victorious, but during that struggle, Gould would see many setbacks that would eventually result in the railroad's bankruptcy in 1908.  On October 19, 1903, when the two ends of the bridge were to be joined together over the Monongahela River, the 109' bridge collapsed; killing ten men.  Construction would resume four days later …

A look at Pittsburgh's Saw Mill Run Boulevard

Saw Mill Run Boulevard - Pennsylvania State Route 51 - runs through the narrow Saw Mill Run Valley.  It begins at the intersection of Clairton Road and Provost Road at the City of Pittsburgh Line with Brentwood.  It ends at the West End Circle at the entrance to the West End Bridge.  A four lane highway for its the entire length, Saw Mill Run Boulevard consists of interchanges at the South Portal of the Liberty Tubes and with the Parkway West.  It is an expressway from the Parkway to the West End Circle (West End Bypass).  One of the most well known traffic tie-ups in the Pittsburgh area occurs between Maytide Street and PA 88 (Library Road) which is simply known as 'Maytide and 88.'

History:
Saw Mill Run Boulevard was part of the 1928 Allegheny County 'City Beautiful' bond issue.  The bonds resulted in the creation of Saw Mill Run, Ohio River, Allegheny River and Mosside Boulevards. (1)   After the completion of the Liberty Tunnels in 1924, Downtown Pittsburgh was offic…