Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Turnpike Weighs Future of Somerset Tunnels Options Considered for Allegheny Mountain

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Turnpike Weighs Future of Somerset Tunnels Options Considered for Allegheny Mountain

Article excerpt

The Pennsylvania Turnpike has revived plans to replace the Allegheny Tunnels in Somerset County, a project that has been talked about for nearly two decades.

The turnpike commission is considering six options for abandoning the 6,070-foot-long tunnels, longest on the turnpike mainline. Three would involve building new tunnels and three would carve an open highway through the mountain either to the north or south of the existing tunnels.

Preliminary cost estimates for the "cut" options range from $242 million to $345 million, and estimates for the tunnel options range from $537 million to $694 million, according to turnpike consultant L.R. Kimball. Annual maintenance costs for a tunnel would exceed $3 million, several times what an open highway segment would cost.

Turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo said the cost differential was only one of several factors the commission will consider in choosing a preferred option, possibly in the spring.

After that, design, acquiring property and securing permits would take four years and construction at least two years, so "in the best case you might be talking about six or seven years" before traffic could be shifted to the new segment, turnpike project manager Jeffrey C. Davis said.

The turnpike commission began studying replacement of the tunnels in 1996 but shelved plans to cut a 220-foot-deep notch in the mountain amid opposition from environmental groups.

The Mountain Field and Stream Club, which owns 1,400 acres above the existing tunnel, again has come out against any plan to carve a highway into the mountain, saying that would be disastrous to the landscape, wildlife, plants and the water supply.

George Jugovic, general counsel for PennFuture, which is representing the club, said it has filed public information requests and hired its own expert to review the turnpike's alternatives.

The group does not accept the turnpike's cost estimates as accurate, but even if a tunnel is more expensive, it would be worth the cost for "a more environmentally sound, more environmentally sane" outcome, Mr. …

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