Laurel Hill Tunnel and Bypass Highway Overview

This is the first section of the Pennsylvania Turnpike to be bypassed.  The original roadway and tunnel closed to traffic on October 30, 1964.  Bypassing the route was deemed more feasible at the time than digging a new tube on the north or south side of the original tunnel, which opened to traffic in 1940.  The bypassed portion of the old roadway is approximately two miles long.  If you look at the straightaway portion of the current alignment, you will see where a 145 foot deep portion of Laurel Hill had to be dynamited out and dug through in order to form the bypass route.  This cut was nearly as deep as the Clear Ridge Cut which workers nicknamed "Little Panama."  The bypass route featured a third lane for trucks to climb the grade without slowing up the other two lanes of traffic.  The bypass route features the only pedestrian footbridge on the original turnpike.  The bridge allows hikers on the Laurel Ridge Trail to cross the turnpike.  This bridge is visible in the aerial photograph below.  It is a thin black line just east of the midway point of the bypass.

Image courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey

Image courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey

Images courtesy of the Google Earth Pro software

Laurel Hill Tunnel - Western Portal

This is the location where the western end of the Laurel Hill Bypass begins.  The old western portal is visible from the current turnpike alignment.  Please be advised -- setting foot on this portion of the old roadway could get you fined or charged with trespassing.  This portion of the old turnpike remains the property of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.  The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has used the connecting portion of the old roadway between the new roadway and western portal of the tunnel to store asphalt, rock salt and temporary concrete barriers.  It has been determined that the tunnel is currently being leased to a private tenant.  They do not allow visitors.  Follow this link for further details.

Laurel Hill Tunnel - Eastern Portal

This is the much-secluded eastern portal of the Laurel Hill Tunnel.  This portal sits approximately one mile away from the eastern end of the original roadway, where the old and new roadways connect.  This portion of the old turnpike, like the western portal, remains the property of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.  You could be fined or charged with trespassing, visiting this area is not advised. 

A few daring turnpike enthusiasts have made the trek to the eastern portal.  There are three ways of doing so.  Unlike the Ray's Hill and Sideling Hill tunnels (where you can visit legally), there is no direct access to Laurel Hill's eastern portal.  According to what I have read elsewhere on the Internet, you can attempt to drive up the old roadway from the east side or walk it.  There is an old turnpike access road that leads to the eastern portal, but it is gated and adorned with a sign discussing the concept of trespassing on turnpike property.  I have not found anyone yet who has taken that route to access the portal.  The only other way to reach the tunnel is by driving a few barely-on-the-map type of roads and then hike across private property.  The hike involves crossing steep grades on foot and areas where rattlesnakes are known to reside.  There is a P.T.C. access road that appears here to lead directly to the tunnel, but so far I have found no one who has risked fines or jail time to follow it ... okay, I guess maybe I have found someone who did actually drive westbound on the old turnpike to reach the eastern portal (January 2006).

Image courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey

Laurel Hill Bypass - Eastern End

This is where the abandoned roadway and the modern alignment of the turnpike rejoin, approximately two miles away from where they separate on the west side.  As with the roadway and tunnel on the west side, this is off-limits to visitors and remains the property of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. 

Does anyone know what the object(s) on the southwest corner of the roadway connection is?   From an aerial view, it appears to be a giant photo cell or a giant rattlesnake.  Any ideas?   E-mail me.

Image courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey

If anyone out in cyberspace has a clue what the huge object is that is due-east of the current turnpike alignment is, please e-mail me.  This looks like a horse's head with an "X" in the center of it.  Perhaps it is an airfield?  Perhaps it is an area of forest that burned off in a fire or was cleared for some reason?   Maybe Mister Ed still lives and haunts the forest on Laurel Hill?

Image courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey

Additional Aerial Photographs

(left pane) Laurel Hill Tunnel and the bypass route -- looking eastbound
(center pane) Another aerial view.  The white line crossing the tunnel is the county line (Westmoreland/Somerset)
(right pane) Laurel Hill Tunnel and the bypass route -- looking westbound

Images courtesy of the Google Earth Pro software

This page was created on:  July 1, 2005. 
Last updated on:  August 09, 2014.

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