The Allegheny Mountain tunnels were originally blasted in the late 19th century in an ill-fated railroad expansion plan by William Vanderbilt later dubbed "Vanderbilt's Folly." The route crossing the Allegheny Mountains required nine tunnels and was nearly complete when investors pulled out. Construction stopped in 1885, but in the 1930s the route was repurposed, and "America's first superhighway," the PA Turnpike, was born.
By the 1960s, the tunnels that bore through the Allegheny Mountains were abandoned, and since have slowly succumbed to the elements, or in the case of the Laurel Hill tunnel, turned into a high-tech race car testing facility no one talks about: Chip Ganassi Racing leased the tunnel from the Turnpike Commission and has apparently re-engineered it as a "giant enclosed wind tunnel."
But the other eight tunnels remain a bit worse for wear. "The tunnels are basically in bad shape and something needs to be done," said Jeffrey Davis, a design engineer manager with the Turnpike Commission, which wants to bypass the tunnels in future Turnpike expansion plans. But until any plans regarding the tunnels' fate come to fruition, there are two tunnels that are unofficially open to the public, intended as pedestrian and bicycle trail that was never completed. (Head over here if you want to divine the location of the secret racing tunnel), but if some good old-fashioned tunnel spelunking is what you're after, Nick Malawskey over at PennLive gives you some pretty detailed instructions on how to get to those abandoned PA Turnpike tunnels - one of which is accessed via Route 30 in Somerset County. "Bring a flashlight," he recommends, and "a pair of boots and a sweatshirt - the tunnel is cold, dark and the roadway there, while paved, is uneven. Bicycles are allowed, but helmets are recommended."
· The secret racing test tunnel no one wants to talk about [Road and Track]
· The abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike tunnels: How to find them [Penn Live]
· Tunnel vision [PennLive]