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Turnpike's 75th Celebrated By State Museum

Pennsylvania Turnpike
Vintage vehicles parade through the Carlisle Interchange as part of this week's 75th anniversary of the opening of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Seventy-five years ago this week the Pennsylvania Turnpike opened from Carlisle to Irwin at a cost of one cent per mile and the rates have been increasing ever since. 

“The bargain rate that was established for a round-trip between Carlisle and Irwin was $2.25,” said Curtis Miner, Senior Curator of History, State Museum of Pennsylvania. A one-way trip from Carlisle to Irwin would cost $19.40 cash and $13.78 with an EZ pass.

To mark the anniversary Turnpike officials organized a vintage car cruise and the state museum of Pennsylvania has mounted and exhibit chronicling the roadway that would be widely duplicated not long after its opening.

“By the late 40’s and 19 50’s we were being copied,” said Miner.  “President Eisenhower saw the wisdom of an interstate highway system based on the same features that the Pennsylvania Turnpike pioneered in 1940, and signed into law the Interstate Defense and Highway Act of 1956.”

The Turnpike’s route has its roots in the trans-Pennsylvania South Penn Rail Road that went defunct not long after it opened in the 1880’s. In the 30’s the idea of an automobile link over the Alleghenies as a way to lift the region out of the depression was floated and by the time it opened in 1940 it was being billed as an “All Weather Highway” and the first highway that was built well enough to handle the ever-improving automobile.

They started with no speed limit and then adjusted it down to 70 miles per hour said Miner,  “A journalist from Canada who came down to experience it from Ottawa said it was like riding a magic carpet being in a vehicle going 70 miles per hour.”

Prior to the opening of the nation's first superhighway, the most popular route from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh was along the Lincoln Highway, which is more commonly known as U.S Rt. 30.  Sightseers were encouraged to use the old Rt. 30 or Rt. 22 options.

“There were no turn-offs and the only places you were really were expected to stop were one of those eleven interchanges, which offered easy off and easy back on the turnpike,” Miner said

The exhibit at the museum in Harrisburg includes an original Turnpike tollbooth and a model of the original seven-tunnel route that changed the way America travels.

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