Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Pennsylvania Turnpike is a major roadway in the state of Pennsylvania linking the greater Philadelphia area in the southeastern portion of the state to Pittsburgh and the Ohio border to the west. It is part of America's interstate highway system. Major portions of it are also signed as Interstate 70 and Interstate 76. It links on the west to the Ohio Turnpike and on the east to the New Jersey Turnpike.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike is considered by some to be America's first limited access superhighway. It was loosely based on the concept of the German Autobahn superhighway network. The highway opened to traffic on October 1, 1940, and like the Autobahn, there was originally no enforced speed limit. The highway was originally 160 miles (257 km) long and linked Irwin, Pennsylvania and Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Much of the grade for the highway was originally surveyed as one of two potential railroad grades across the Allegheny Mountains by Colonel Charles Schattler of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1840s. One of the routes was used by the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) to link Pittsburgh and Philadelphia by rail in 1850. The other, a more southern alignment, one was never utilized until 1883, when the New York Central Railroad, the Pennsylvania Railroad's chief rival, decided to challenge the PRR by building a second route through the Allegheny Mountains to reach the lucrative Pittsburgh freight market. The rail bed was only about 60% complete by 1885, when the South Pennsylvania Railroad project was abandoned due to massive cost overruns.
In the 1930's, the still-abandoned rail right-of-way, including several completed tunnels, was acquired by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. The new highway followed the general routing of the abandoned railroad through the rugged Allegheny Mountains. Built as a toll road, it was constructed in 20 months, and opened in 1940.
It was the first modern toll road controlled-access highway in the United States for use by all vehicles. Although it was preceded by the similar parkway system in the New York City metropolitan area, those roads were designated solely for non-commercial use. The Pennsylvania Turnpike was the model followed by other states that constructed turnpikes after World War II.
Later extensions to Ohio, New Jersey, and Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania in the Poconos were built to make the Turnpike part of the northeastern toll road system, which, when complete, made it possible to drive from Maine to Chicago, Illinois without stopping at a traffic light.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike currently extends 359 miles from the town of Bristol, Pennsylvania on the Delaware River to its western terminus at the Ohio border in Lawrence County, where it connects to the Ohio Turnpike. In addition, there is a 110 mile long Northeast Extension linking greater Philadelphia with Interstate 81 near Clarks Summit. There are also 62 miles of other extensions in the western portion of the state with more planned to be completed in the first decade of the 21st century.
The total Turnpike system, including extensions, is now 528 miles (850 km) long, and carried 162.3 million vehicles in fiscal year 2000-01. Today, the Turnpike is part of the interstate highway system, signed as Interstate 70; Interstate 76; Interstate 276; and Interstate 95 (when a connection between that highway and the Turnpike is built); with Interstate 476 being a Northeastern Extension of the Turnpike.
Today, the Turnpike is controlled by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, handles over 172 million vehicles per year, and employs nearly 2,200 people.
On November 24, 2004, two thousand Teamsters Union employees of the Pennsylvania Turnpike went on strike, after contract negotiations failed. This was the day before Thanksgiving, usually one of the busiest traffic days in the United States.  To keep the turnpike open, tolls were waived for the remainder of the day. Starting on November 25, flat-rate passenger tolls of $2 and commercial tolls of $15 were collected by management staff of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.  This represented a substantial discount for most travelers, who would normally have to pay about $20 to travel along the full length of the main east-west route. The strike only lasted seven days, with an agreement reached on November 30, and tolls being collected again on December 1, 2004.
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