A complete turn

News August 23, 2002
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Opened for traffic in 1940, the Pennsylvania Turnpike is one of the older limited-access freeways in the U

Opened for traffic in 1940, the Pennsylvania Turnpike is one of the older limited-access freeways in the U.S. Some of its design characteristics were patterned after the German Autobahn, which was built during the 1930s. The most common attribute of both highways is their design for driving vehicles "safely" to 100 mph.


The original length of the turnpike was 160 miles stretching between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. This included seven tunnels that were built through different sections of the Allegheny Mountains.


Today's turnpike is 515 miles long and includes a 360-mile highway running east-west, a 110-mile northeastern extension and 45 miles of various western extensions. The east-west route connects with other limited-access highways at the New Jersey and Ohio borders; the northeast extension connects to the east-west route and proceeds north to I-81 near Scranton.


If a roadway's driving conditions are to be continually held to high standards, a comprehensive ongoing maintenance program is necessary. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is well aware of this fact. As a toll road, the commission must in particular maintain high roadway standards for its paying customers, who will tolerate nothing less.


Essentially, the Pennsylvania Turnpike is operated by a private-public sector partnership and is perpetuated by receiving revenue from collected tolls. The commission receives no tax revenue from local, state or federal agencies. This past year the turnpike's income from tolls was $366 million plus $27.5 million received from plaza revenues and other sources.


As with any services-oriented enterprise, the commission must offer a value-added highway service if it is to keep its customer-paying base. There is an alternative highway for motorists. It is I-80 that runs parallel to the east-west turnpike, albeit 45 to 50 miles to the north. This highway is, of course, "free" to use.


Over the next 10 years, the commission projects investing $1.46 billion capital in 100 miles of the original-built roadway. Instead of continuing to overlay the original concrete pavement with asphalt, the roadway will be completely removed in favor of building a new one. Each contract let to a third party for rebuilding a section of the roadway will encompass about 10 miles of the 100-mile stretch to be reconstructed.


For more on the story, read the September issue of ROADS&BRIDGES.


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