The Fort Pitt Tunnels

The Fort Pitt Tunnels southern portal.

The Fort Pitt Tunnels, completed in 1960, along with the accompanying Fort Pitt Bridge, were instrumental in linking the city of Pittsburgh with the growing suburbs to the south. The recently completed Parkway West now extended all the way from downtown Pittsburgh to the airport in Moon Township and on to Beaver Falls. The interchange at Interstate 79 now provided a convenient link with the US Interstate system.

This was just another of the major transportation upgrades initiated in the 1950s as part of Mayor David Lawrence's Renaissance I, contributing to the development of the Greater Pittsburgh metropolitan area. The effect of the Fort Pitt Tunnels rivaled those of the Liberty Tunnels and Bridge in the 1920s.

The Banksville Traffic Circle in 1950

Prior to 1950, the Banksville Traffic Circle (shown above in 1948) was the connecting link for Saw Mill Run Boulevard, Banksville Road and Woodville Avenue, a two lane roadway which was the only route to the West End. Getting from this point to downtown Pittsburgh was still a difficult travel, either south to the Liberty Tunnels or north along Woodville Avenue to the West End Circle. The circle would be replaced in the early-1950s.

The photos below show the traffic circle in 1950 (left), during construction of the West End Bypass extension, and the new Fort Pitt Tunnels/I-279 interchange in 1958 (right), during tunnel construction.

The Banksville Circle in 1950 showing the beginning
phases of the construction of the West End Bypass
which extended Saw Mill Run Blvd to Carson Street.    The new interchange at the Fort Pitt Tunnels
eliminated the old Banksville Circle and helped
extend the Saw Mill Run Blvd to Carson Street.

The dotted line shows the path of the tunnels from the southern portal to the northern portal and downtown Pittsburgh. Also shown is the modern interchange constructed to link Saw Mill Run Boulevard, the West End Bypass, the Parkway West, Banksville Road and Woodville Avenue. The groundbreaking ceremony was held April 17, 1957, and drilling began August 28. The estimated cost for the new tunnels was $17 million.

Fort Pitt Tunnel Construction (1957-1959)

  

  

  

Looking out the north portal of the Fort Pitt
Tunnels at downtown Pittsburgh.

The photos above show the construction phase of the Fort Pitt Tunnel project. As workers blasted through the rock, steel ribbing was inserted to keep the tunnels from collapsing. Construction took nearly two years. Along with the Fort Pitt Bridge, which were under construction at the same time, the new gateway to the City of Pittsburgh was a much needed addition to the ever-increasing traffic flow, and one of the cornerstones of a modernization effort proposed by famed planner, Robert Moses, in 1939 known as the "Moses Plan".

Dedication Day - September 1, 1960.

Governor Joseph Barr (no hat) and Mayor David Lawrence (hat in hand) are the first passengers to travel through the newly Completed Fort Pitt Tunnels and across the newly constructed Fort Pitt Bridge on dedication day, September 1, 1960. Of the highway tunnels in Allegheny County, the Fort Pitt Tunnels (3,614 feet) on the Parkway West are third in length behind the Liberty Tubes (5,889 feet) and the Squirrel Hill Tunnels (4,225 feet) on the Parkway East.

The Fort Pitt Tunnels northern portal.

The northern portals on the city side of the Fort Pitt Tunnels are vertically offset to allow traffic to mesh with the stacked deck of the Fort Pitt Bridge. Traffic into downtown crosses the bridge on the upper deck. Outbound traffic uses the lower bridge deck and passes into a tunnel portal which is about thirty feet lower in elevation.

The outbound bore gradually rises to meet the elevation of its neighbor so that the southern portals are equal in elevation. The Fort Pitt Tunnels underwent a major rehabilitation in the mid-2000s along with the bridge, which included a new roadbed, lighting and a thorough cleaning.

View of Fort Pitt Bridge and City of
Pittsburgh when exiting the Fort Pitt Tunnels.

Famous as the "best way to enter an American city," motorists traveling from the West on Interstate 279 are given no visual clues regarding their nearness to downtown Pittsburgh as they enter the Fort Pitt Tunnels. When their vehicle emerges on the other side, the Golden Triangle suddenly bursts into view framed by the golden crossbracing of the bridge's arches.

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