Pennsylvania Turnpike, America’s First Limited Access, Divided Superhighway, Turns 76

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The first motorist enters the Irwin Interchange of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in October 1940.

pa-turnpikeThe number 76 is special to those of us who live in the Delaware Valley.

The digits call to mind the signing of the Declaration of Independence and Philadelphia’s past as our nation’s capital.

Seventy-six is also how old the Pennsylvania Turnpike turned this month. This birthday of the first limited access, divided superhighway in America may not mean as much to those outside the region as last year’s diamond anniversary.

But it’s noteworthy to those of us in the Greater Philadelphia area.

In 1940, the Pennsylvania Turnpike extended 160 miles from Carlisle to Irwin, and featured seven tunnels, 10 service plazas, and 11 interchanges.

Harry S. Truman was in the White House when the Carlisle-to-Valley Forge extension opened in November 1950 to usher in the expansion decade. Extensions from Irwin to the Ohio Line and from Valley Forge to New Jersey soon followed. The Northeastern Extension, from Montgomery County in the south to Scranton in the north, was the longest of the expansion projects, crossing some 110 miles.

Now part of the Interstate Highway System, the turnpike is 514 miles, more than triple its original length.

A passenger vehicle traveling the entire 360 miles of the main line today pays $42.30 in cash upon exit.

Pennsylvania collects some $1 billion annually from turnpike tolls, while spending about $7 billion on all of its roads.

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