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Biking the Abandoned Turnpike

by: Rich Hauck

I feel somewhat guilty for bringing more attention this rather hidden gem, but I found it to be a photographer’s paradise.

If you’re unfamiliar with the abandoned turnpike, it’s a 13-mile stretch of highway off of Breezewood (between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh) that was active from 1940 to 1968. The turnpike commission bypassed this section to alleviate tunnel traffic. As a result, the Sideling Hill and Rays Hill tunnels were abandoned, and a travel plaza was leveled.

The property was sold in 2001 to the Southern Alleghenies Conservancy, and has since been passed along to the Friends of Pike 2 Bike.

The land is free to bike on, but at one’s own risk. I rode with a group of roughly 12 people, and after making the trek, I would discourage anyone from going out there on their own.

Kudos to floor9.com for organizing this trip.

Abandoned Turnpike

Only 8 miles of the 13 miles are accessible, as each end remains the private property of the turnpike commission. As you can see, the condition of the road is slowly deteriorating.

Rays Hill Tunnel

The entryway to the Rays Hill Tunnel. The doors to these tunnels were either soldered shut or missing.

The Sideling Hill Tunnel is roughly 1.3 miles long and the Rays Hill Tunnel is ~0.5 miles long. Bike headlights are a must, especially with Sideling Hill, as you can't see the end of the opposite side.

Sideling Hill

We took the steps up to the top of the tunnel where we got to see the huge exhaust fans. These fans were found above each end of the tunnel. Sideling Hill's fans were painted with graffiti. The entrance way (center) leads to an access tunnel above the road.

Above the tunnel

Above each tunnel runs an equally long access tunnel. Support beams run across the center, and a rusted track remains for what could possibly have been a rail car. This portion was a bit treacherous, as, despite what this long exposure displays, the hall was pitch black, and large holes in the floor remain where lights once hung.

In the Tunnel

Here's a shot from inside the tunnel, looking east. Some of the square "windows" showed the bedrock. From what I've been told, these tunnels originated as railway tunnels, and the current tunnel doesn't actually touch the underlying rock.

Exhaust Fans

Here are the Rays Hill Tunnel exhaust fans.

These fans showed quite a bit of rust, but not much graffiti. This was probably due to the fact that the staircase had rusted and collapsed. Some of us crawled through the top and worked our way down.

End

At the end of the 8-mile stretch is PA Turnpike-owned private property. Apparently, a bridge spanned the gap to the east connection, but was torn down in 2005 since it was no longer structually sound.


Categories:travel
Tags:abandoned turnpike

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About Rich Hauck

Rich Hauck

I'm a creative technologist at Hauck Interactive, Inc. and an adjunct instructor at HACC. I live in Harrisburg, Pa. with my wife and three boys. I enjoy good coffee, Trappist beers, Orioles baseball, and good design.


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