There’s a movie coming out this November that features everybody’s favorite 13-mile stretch of abandoned highway. The abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike was used as a major filming location for The Road due its post-apocalyptic appearance and relative isolation. Look at slides #6 and #4 of the USA Today slideshow, and you’ll see the eastern portal of the Rays Hill tunnel and the bend as they approach one of the tunnels, respectively.
The first I heard about it was back around ’93. A friend told me about it while we were driving up to the then-new Steamtown Mall. “Hey, did you ever hear about that Concrete City place? Yeah, it’s weird; it’s like they were going to build apartments or something but they just stopped mid-way. Now it’s just all these concrete shells. It’s up around Wilkes-Barre somewhere. I dunno, I never actually saw it.” For the past 15 years I’ve just pushed it to the back of my mind, never giving it much thought. But after staking out the Abandoned Turnpike last summer, my interest in Concrete City was rekindled. And today, I grabbed some friends and made the trek.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike opened in 1940 with seven tunnels. Today, only five remain open. Three have been bypassed (Laurel Hill, Rays Hill, and Sideling Hill) and one more (Lehigh) has been built on the northeast extension. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is currently planning to bypass the Allegheny Tunnel, which would result in the first abandoned twin-tube tunnel on the turnpike. But for now, the abandoned stretch between Route 30 and Pumping Station Road is home to 66% of the bypassed tunnels. And they’re open for business.
Despite how much fun it is to poke fun at our local roads, the Pennsylvania Turnpike is actually a pretty great road. Then-new features such as long entrance ramps, banked turns, and limited access have caused the Turnpike to become a standard against which all the Interstate systems have been built. It was so revolutionary for its time (designed and built in the 1930s, opened in 1940) that eager drivers rapidly saturated the road’s capacity — and their eagerness is what ultimately led to our explorations this past Sunday.Â For a basic primer on the abandoned segment of the PA Turnpike, see my previous post.