Laurel Hill Tunnel
First Imperial visit, 4 March 2004
1 October 1940|
(Opening of the Turnpike)
|Closed||30 October 1964|
|South Penn Railroad|
|Planned Length||5,389 ft|
|Heading Completed||1,285 ft|
Laurel Hill Tunnel is one of the Lost Tunnels of Septempontia. It was the first of the original seven tunnels, traveling from west to east, and it was also the first to be abandoned, in 1964.
The western portal of the tunnel is located on a maintenance road (which is actually the original Turnpike) between miles 99 and 100 of the Turnpike, east of Donegal. The tunnel is now used to store salt and is next to a construction storage hut.
Use since closing
The tunnel has been closed since 1964. It has since been used as a storage facility by the Turnpike Commission and PennDOT, holding (it is believed) salt and gravel supplies, as well as core samples believed to have been taken in construction of the Mon-Fayette Expressway.
The tunnel is in use by Chip Ganassi Racing, presumably leased from the Turnpike Commission, for car aerodynamics testing.
Another first for the Tunnel is that it was the first of the Lost Tunnels to be visited by a Septempontian, albeit from several hundred feet. The first such visit took place on 4 March 2004 by Shawn Knight. However, unlike Ray's Hill Tunnel and Sideling Hill Tunnel, it has never been entered by a Septempontian, owing to its closure and use by the Turnpike Commission and those leasing it from the Commission.
Visiting Laurel Hill
Visiting Laurel Hill is much more difficult than visiting Ray's Hill and Sideling Hill. Unlike the latter tunnels, Laurel Hill is owned and operated for storage and testing, and is not open to the public.
The western portal
To visit the western portal, take the Turnpike east from Donegal (Exit 91) towards Somerset. Get to the right-hand lane and begin to slow down at mile 99. There is an area by the side of the road designated for emergency parking.
From there, looking further up the road you should see a brown "igloo"-shaped maintenance building to the side of the Turnpike, with an access road coming off the Pike and downhill. That "access road" is in reality the original Turnpike. If you walk up to the access road and look downhill and slightly to the left, you should see the Tunnel portal without difficulty.
Note that it is believed you can be fined for trespassing on the right-of-way if you do this and are caught by state police, to say nothing of the danger of walking several hundred feet up the Turnpike where the shoulder is very, very narrow. Visit Laurel Hill at your own significant risk, both to your life and your legal record.
The eastern portal
The eastern portal is much further from the new alignment of the Turnpike and as such would involve a much longer (and riskier) walk, leaving one's car on the Turnpike in an even more problematic location, or by walking a significant distance across private property after driving on local roads. We do not recommend such an attempt, nor do we even have reliable, tested directions for doing so.
Little is known of the condition of the tunnel except what can be inferred from limited press releases and observation of the racing team activities near it. Geocachers and other hikers near the tunnel have reported and photographed the poor condition of the superstructure at the eastern portal: the roof appears to have more or less completely collapsed. The tunnel proper is believed to be as sound as the Breezewood tunnels, though its interior has probably been significantly renovated by the racing team.
There is no indication that the Turnpike Commission may have any intention of selling the tunnel or making it open to the public in the future.
The Breezewood tunnels were more easily established as a recreation area because, after the bypass in 1968, they were still accessible from convenient local roads. This would not be so for Laurel Hill; the only easy access to it is from the Turnpike itself, so even if the tunnel and right-of-way were open to the public, getting to it would require the cooperation of the Turnpike or of local residents whose land must be crossed to reach the area.
As of May 2006, $100,000 was budgeted in the Turnpike's capital plan for a full inspection of the Tunnel scheduled for 2012-2013 (item "T099.59NN001 - Laurel Mountain Tunnel Inspection, 2012-13").