The day before Fort Pitt Tunnel opened in August 1960, The Pittsburgh Press editorial page suggested that it will help the city “get rid of some traffic headaches…” Yep. You read that correctly.
In all fairness though, the editorial’s author maintained a grounding in reality by finishing his piece with “… and perhaps acquire some new ones.”
For those involved these days in a daily morning traffic snarl on the Parkway West through the tunnel and into the city, the state’s effort toward a passage under Mount Washington in the late 1950s might now seem a folly.
The tunnel cost $10 million and was part of a larger $32 million state-funded highway program announced in October 1956.
At the time, it was the most expensive project in Pittsburgh history.
The idea of making the tunnel a toll passage garnered support from the Automobile Club of Pittsburgh and city residents. The notion was ultimately scrapped when state funding came through. Pennsylvania politicians such as Sen. Frank Kopriver Jr. said charging tolls was not fair since Squirrel Hill Tunnel drivers paid no tolls.
Construction of Fort Pitt Tunnel began in spring 1957. Just before Thanksgiving that year, Fred Jones of The Pittsburgh Press explored the construction site. The job of the drillers was made more difficult by the fact that when you exit the tunnel in the city, you’re 20 feet higher than when you enter.
It took workers six months to drill the 3,600-foot tunnel at an average of about 46 feet a day, Jones wrote.
A year later, when the tunnel was completed, David Kelly of The Pittsburgh Press characterized the view coming out of the tunnel as “a canyon-barrel view of Pittsburgh’s steel and cement canyons.”
That much, at least, has not changed.