Designated as the USA’s first superhighway, the PA Turnpike was opened to motorists in 1940. It was a landmark event in the history of American roads. Stretching across more than 550 miles, the PA Turnpike begins at the state of Ohio and culminates at the New Jersey border at the Delaware River-Turnpike Toll Bridge.
The highway crisscrosses the state from east to west. It acts as a link between Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia. It passes the visually appealing Appalachian Mountains and embraces picturesque towns and villages on its way. Nothing short of an engineering marvel, the turnpike has kept up with the times and adopted state-of-the-art technology. This has ensured lower waiting times by increasing the traffic flow and also enhancing drivers’ safety.
The highway was built over the abandoned South Pennsylvania Railroad. It was a trendsetter for the Interstate Highway System of the USA. Even in the initial days, up to 10,000 vehicles used the turnpike every day. Computerized toll booths were introduced in the 1960s. Other features like improved pavement drainage, median, rights-of-way, etc. were introduced around this time.
The Later Years
Several measures were undertaken in the new millennium to further enhance the safety aspects and bring in operational comfort. These measures include roadway cameras, truck rollover alert systems, fog detectors, weather stations, etc. More guardrails were installed, and the median further widened.
The Covid 19-related pandemic played havoc with business and the society at large all over the world. Many people began working from home and vehicular traffic dropped substantially. The toll collectors were staring at a high-risk prospect while carrying out their job of toll collection by cash. To combat this scenario, the turnpike authority introduced an All Electronic Tolling (AET) system. Henceforth, it has been decided not to return to the cash toll collection system in the safety interests of both motorists and toll employees.
Emergency assistance services are available for all motorists using the turnpike. By dialing *11 from their mobile phones, motorists can avail themselves of such services. The State Farm Safety Patrol continuously monitors the highway to provide assistance to accident victims and remove any debris that blocks the road. Possible inclement weather conditions ahead are also notified to motorists via message boards and through mobile phones.
The 15 service plazas present on the highway offer some relaxation and refreshment opportunities for motorists. There are fast-food restaurants, gas stations, convenience stores, ATMs, and free mobile charging consoles available here. All these facilities are most sought after by motorists.
Ownership of the PA Turnpike
In 2008, the State of Pennsylvania decided announced to lease the turnpike to private entities. The group that won the bid at $12.8 billion was a consortium of three organizations:
- Citi Infrastructure Investors
- Albertis Infraestructuras, and
- Criteria CaixaCorp.
However, that deal fell through. There was also talk of Chinese investments in 2014 that would pump in much-needed dollars into the turnpike coffers, but not much came out of it. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) continues to own it – while its debts are mounting. So, the PTC is desperately looking for ways to fund the turnpike without raising toll rates. New ownership through a lease to a private organization could just be around the corner.
PO Box 645631
Pittsburgh, PA 15264-5254
300 East Park Drive
Harrisburg, PA 17111