Thursday, May 10, 2018

5 Historic Roads You Can No Longer Drive On

I decided to take things off the rails with this blog and talk about roads. While all infrastructure needs to be updated over time, roads are rarely abandoned, unlike railroads. When a railroad line's existence can no longer be justified by it's traffic volume, as a privately owned piece of infrastructure, it is sold off or liquidated, or abandoned.

If the Main Street in your town is bypassed by a brand new six-lane freeway on the outskirts, it still serves a purpose to the townsfolk, and more importantly, is continuously funded by them. However, roads are not immune to abandonment either. Here are five roads you can no longer drive on today.

 1) Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike (East of Breezewood, PA)
Wikipedia
Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike. Photo: Jgera5
Breezewood, PA is a strange little town when it comes to roads. It's home to one of the very few traffic lights on an Interstate Highway, as to continue east on I-70 requires you to do a loop in Breezewood. East of there lies a 13 mile former stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. This stretch of road was abandoned to ease congestion in the two tunnels it crosses, which were formerly railroad tunnels for a line never built, and couldn't be expanded to fit the needs of a 4 lane tollway, reducing traffic to one lane in each direction in the tunnels.

Abandoned in 1968, the road today is slated to become a bike trail. It is officially closed to the public, but that hasn't stopped people from using it. The road and tunnels are covered in graffiti, and there are many pictures of the road online. PennDOT has used the road for pavement marking tests, movie scenes have been filmed on it, and the military has stored weapons on it as well, so even if this road is abandoned, it still serves some niche purposes.

2) PA-61 in Centralia, PA (40.795917, -76.344272)

More Pics & Info
Centralia is a ghost town, and below it's almost entirely abandoned streets, a coal fire that started in the 1960's continues to burn, and will do so for several hundred more years. I could blog on and on about Centralia, but others have better than I ever could. The video I found on Centralia is lengthy, but it's a story worth hearing.


Pennsylvania Route 61 entered the town from the south and turned west through the center of Centralia. The coal fire underground, however, made the road impossible to maintain, as chunks of earth were burned from the fires below. PennDOT made the decision to abandon the road and upgrade a smaller road to the east to be used as the new PA-61. While the old 61 is officially off limits, just as with the Turnpike, that hasn't stopped people from exploring it, despite the many warnings that the area is extremely dangerous.
Image and more info: dangerousroads.org

 3) Lincoln Highway through the Dugway Proving Ground (40.091718, -113.701513)
Wikipedia
The Lincoln Highway is one of the oldest transcontinental roads in existence, and as every major road of it's size, it has undergone many revisions to it's route over the century it has existed. One of the most major revisions occurred in Utah west of Salt Lake City. The Lincoln Highway Association has painstakingly mapped the entire route, and it's historic routes, here.

Government Creek Bridge: 40.182778, -112.923056 Image: SLC History
The State of Utah preferred moving the Lincoln Highway to a more northerly alignment from it's original more southerly alignment in the Great Salt Lake Desert. The Beehive State got it's wish when Dugway Proving Grounds was opened in 1941, and the US Army took over a parcel of the desert the size of Rhode Island, including where the Lincoln Highway originally ran through. These pre-1941 alignments of the road still exist, but are closed off to the public.

More information and photos of the Lincoln Highway

The northern route that Utah preferred would eventually become a Frontage Road for Interstate 80.

4) Chain of Rocks Bridge (US-66) (38.760556, -90.176389)
 Wikipedia
Image: Chris Yunker
Much like the Lincoln Highway, The Mother Road (or US-66) has been constantly upgraded and bypassed over it's lifespan. While US 66 has been decommissioned, it's Chicago to Los Angeles Route, and the towns it passed through, live on as American icons of a bygone era.

Also like the Lincoln Highway, it has a number of enthusiasts willing to put the time and effort into mapping the entire route.

The Chain of Rocks Bridge was built in 1929 as a private toll bridge over the Mississippi River, and was incorporated into US-66 in 1936, allowing long distance travelers to bypass downtown St. Louis. The bridge was especially unique for it's 22 degree turn in the center, which was put in place to allow riverboats to align with the current of the Mississippi.

The bridge, much like the rest of US-66, became a victim of the Interstate Highway System, as a free (and much larger) bridge was built to the north along I-270, becoming functionally obsolete. It was slated to be demolished in the 1970's, but was thankfully saved. Cars can no longer drive on it, but it is still in service as a bike trail from Illinois to Missouri.

More Info from The Road Wanderer

5) Park East Freeway, Milwaukee, WI (43.04897, -87.90613)
Preservenet Article

The Park East Freeway in Milwaukee, WI was built in the 1970's, much later than the other four roads on this list. And while the former roads were all part of much larger systems, the Park East Freeway was only a mile long.
Image: Preservenet.com
In 1948, freeways and expressways were the way of the future, and cities all across the United States began to envision their freeway networks. Milwaukee was no exception, and began plans to build all of their freeways that run through the city today, as well as few that don't. Enter the Park East Freeway.

The Park East was a spur from today's I-43 to the north side of Downtown Milwaukee at Jefferson St. It was intended to head south from there and join the Lake Freeway (which was built and is I-794 today). See the map below for the entire route.

Only the route from I-43 to Jefferson St was built, leaving it as sort of a freeway to nowhere. The late 60's and early 70's began a period of transition in regards to beliefs about freeways, and as such, people were no longer supportive of large elevated structures carrying traffic above them. The fact that it wasn't built in it's entirety meant traffic volumes were very low, and in 1999 it was voted to be demolished, returning the downtown blocks it occupied to retail and housing developments over the next 15 years. This was part of the Freeway Revolts of Milwaukee, and other cities, which resulted in many freeways getting cancelled. What makes this unique is that this was actually built, at least partially.

Another example of a demolished highway is soon to come in New York City. The Sheridan Expressway, once I-895, is slated to be rebuilt as a parkway in the coming years, and is now State Route 895 as a result.

The road network is in a constant state of flux, and while it is rare for parts of it to be abandoned, there are many examples of roads which are no longer driveable. Know of any that you'd like to share? Let us know in the comments!

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