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How Breezewood Got That Way
If you travel frequently through Pennsylvania, or between the mid-Atlantic and the Midwest, Breezewood needs no introduction. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, this image might:
It has become a meme, particularly among Internet critics of capitalism: a half mile of commercial excess in the mountains of Pennsylvania, far from any population centers or tourist attractions. Yet, the origins of Breezewood have more to do with governments trying to outsmart each other than corporate greed.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike was built in the 1940s, one of the first expressways in the country. When the Interstate System was proposed in the late 1950s, most of it was grandfathered into the system as Interstate 76. Another interstate, I-70, was planned to run from Baltimore and Washington west to Utah by way of Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Denver. To cross the Appalachians, it was to double up with I-76 and use the existing Pennsylvania Turnpike.
However, to prevent states from funneling interstate traffic onto toll highways, the federal government forbade states from building interstate connections that ended at a toll road. This left the commonwealth of Pennsylvania with two options it found unpalatable: using solely state money to build the interchange with the eastern leg of Interstate 70, or eliminating tolls on the Turnpike entirely. So, in its wisdom, the state decided to end Interstate 70 at the Lincoln Highway (U.S. Highway 30), and direct I-70 traffic onto the Lincoln Highway to a nearby, pre-existing exit with the Turnpike. Technically, interstate travelers had the option of continuing onto the Lincoln Highway for free.
This created a sort of unofficial, mandatory rest stop along Interstate 70. Businesses, from local mom-and-pops to multinational corporations, rushed in to take advantage. The Internet loves to argue about it, but Breezewood is nothing more than a state government’s attempt to get around the strings the federal government put on an offer of highway money. Still, if you insist on finding something sinister in Breezewood, you can start with the next town going east on the Lincoln Highway:
Man, Cocaine Mitch is everywhere.Published in General
You can find the interchange on Google Maps here.
While I generally find federal strings on dollars to be corrosive, in this case I would have also accepted “drop the tolls” as a solution.
My family and I have stopped there so often over the last 40 years there should be an historical marker with our name on it.
So, the question really is, “Do I still have to buy a pack of gum if I am going to ask for directions?”
Not for directions, but you do have to buy something if you use the bathroom.
Been through there many times. Thanks for the history!
It looks like it has changed since the last time I was there, probably in April 1992.
On my annual trip from the Baltimore/DC metro area to Wisconsin, I find the few extra miles by taking I 68 beginning in Hancock Maryland and ending in Morgantown WV, then heading up I 79 to rejoin I 70 worth the saving in tolls. Especially when towing a double axle RV. But I have seen Breezewood on many occasions prior to the completion of the I 68 bypass of the PA turnpike.
Perhaps I wouldn’t mind the Pennsylvania toll roads so much if it wasn’t some of the worst interstate roads I have to routinely travel. I don’t know what the state spend its highway funds on, but it doesn’t seem like it is on the western portion of I 70. Also don’t get me going on the routinely backed up traffic on PA interstates in the summer with no visible signs of activity when you pass the choke points.
Terrible roads correlate with toll booths. Ask any FIB.
Pretty poor correlation, though.
Mr. Charlotte and I, current residents of suburban northern Virginia but with family in Milwaukee and South Bend, respectively, make the drive through Breezewood en route to the Midwest at least six times per year. It’s a perfect spot to switch drivers, top off the gas and coffee, and hit the facilities. I’ve never understood why I’m supposed to be so horrified by it.
I forgot about all those tolls in PA – I vaguely remember Breezewood. Your last sentence prompted this thought. My sister, now retired, work for state of MD. They were trained to recognize drug encounters. The routes that ran from NY, PA, MD brought in drugs from the big gangs that controlled the east and west coast. I had no idea – these little innocent towns in the mountains had such activity.
In the beautiful little state park near my sister, where we used to canoe, she has witnessed crips and bloods and they even bring their families – with kids – they are open about it!!
Interesting bit of history. In fact, though, if not in law, that piece of the PA Turnpike running from Breezewood to New Stanton, is considered a chunk of I-70 and labeled as such, running concurrently with it, and I-70 proper picks up again at New Stanton and follows its original planned route to somewhere in Utah while the turnpike veers northwest to the Ohio border.
Pennsylvania roads are indeed as bad as they are advertised to be. Mr. She used to say that even a blind driver coming east from West Virginia into Pennsylvania would know the instant he crossed the state border.
Back in the mid-late 1980s I did the drive from Wisconsin to DC/Baltimore several times to visit my old college roommate, always drove I-65 to Indianapolis and then I-70 east to avoid the tollroads across Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. This was back when they were still converting US40(48?) across the Maryland panhandle to an Interstate.
Anyway, if I remember correctly there was this weird little hook/interchange/connection with I-79(?) south of Pittsburgh. Was that a remnant of this?
I’ve never been to Pennsylvania but when I see that photo, I don’t think, “Oh yuck, commerce!” I think, “Ah, good. Choices!” If this gas station looks run-down or too full, there are others just down the street. I don’t care for McDonalds but I see signs for Taco Bell and Subway, and there are probably some other decent places to get a fast lunch so I can get back on the road again. If a person has time to take a slow route, you can stay off the interstates and drive though small towns. You don’t have to drive the main roads if you don’t want to.
Yes my bad editing lost that leg. It is all interstate roads with the I 68 route
I don’t think I have driven through or by the Breezewood interchange, but with the note from @charlotte and others, and my own experience with early interstates in the west, it sounds like a good solution to a need.
If the argument is “environmentalism,” and if a goal is to maintain as much land as possible in a “state of nature,” concentrating all that commercial activity in one small area may have less impact overall than scattering the activity across miles of mountains and forests. [I know, many environmentalists don’t want people to travel at all, but I also am captivated by the idea that instead of living in cabins scattered through the woods, radical environmentalists should live in very dense high rise buildings in order to leave more land free of any human interaction.]
On many highways, once a bit of traveller services start being built at an interchange, other services also come, as travelers come to associate the interchange with a variety of available services. Travelers can decide as they exit the highway whether to eat at Denny’s or at Perkins, rather than having to remember in advance that the Denny’s is at one exit, while the Perkins is at a different exit. Or a travel group can split up and each get their own fast food or gas station snacks if they don’t agree on a single preference. Although some people don’t appreciate the price benefits of competition, those of us who do understand that having several gasoline stations very near each other at one interchange helps keep any one of them from charging unreasonable prices.
My own experience was traveling brand new Interstate 5 through the San Joaquin Valley in California in the 1970s. When the highway first opened, traveler services were few and far between. There were no towns along the highway. The primary sign of human life along a couple hundred mile section was an enormous cattle feed operation near the northern end of the section. Driving that highway a traveler was always uncertain where the traveler could find services, and if there were services at a particular interchange, what those services might include. But over time services began to build in clusters at a few interchanges. The one I noted as it grew was Buttonwillow. The I-5 interchange is actually several miles west of the actual town. At first at the interchange there was just one desolate gas station run by the people who owned a nearby ranch. Now, although not Breezewood scale, there are a number of gas stations, restaurants, and motels, so that travelers can plan to exit there and be confident that there they will find something to satisfy their needs.
I had never heard of this place. Thanks, not just for the description, but the explanation!
Now can you do Lendava, Slovenia? Why so much retail commerce at the junction of that country, Croatia, and Hungary? Also, what ever was the story with Van Horn, Texas? It wasn’t a shopping mecca, or even much of a pit stop; but its bus terminal was oddly spacious, and if you took a long trip in west Texas, you would almost certainly have a long wait there, either to change buses or reboard your own after another came in to connect with it. An artifact of geography and scheduling, I guess. But it was an enduring mystery, back in the 1980s!
As a native Pennsylvanian, I can tell you that it sure as hell isn’t the eastern portion of the I 70.
Several years ago I had heard about a survey that asked American truck drivers about the condition of the roads. For several years running, Pennsylvania came in as being the worst state, from their perspective.
That’s about ten miles from me. If you’re coming North on 79, you use an exit ramp to get onto 70E, but if you want to get on 70W, you have to make a 360-degree loop, after which you travel for a short distance on a road which is 70 and 79 running concurrently, after which 79 continues North to Pittsburgh, and 70W peels off to head to West Virginia. It’s odd, and if you’re not expecting it, confusing and dangerous. It’s not as bad as it used to be (infamous and deadly), since they did a massive reconstruction project a something over a decade ago, but it’s still rather a mess and a poster child for poor highway design.
I’m not sure why it’s the way it is, but I don’t believe it has anything to do with the other I70 construction. Possibly has something to do with terrain, but more likely, being PA–someone in or aligned with the state government got rich from a sale of land or via construction contracts.
I don’t know where it stands today, but at one point, the 70/79 interchange was one of the busiest in the country for truck traffic. It’s an awful junction, and the roads are an awful mess.
That’s the one! I don’t recall encountering it the last time I drove that way (2019), but it was “memorable” from the trips in the 1980s.
I’m going out that way end of March, I’ll keep an eye peeled.
There’s a stretch southeast of Chicago around Gary IN where I-80, I-90 and I-94 run together for about 10-15 miles that’s always wall-to-wall trucks.
You’re passing close to home. Let me know if you have time to stop and have lunch somewhere. Safe travels.
PS: One of the most confusing things for the unwary if you’re going South to North is that nowhere on the sign announcing the upcoming interchange is the word “Pittsburgh.” So unless you have Mr. Google giving you explicit instructions, or you know that you must head for “Washington (PA)” if you want to get to Pittsburgh, it can instill momentary panic. It’s somewhat clearer and less circuitous, going the other way.
You exaggerate. It’s like that only 96 percent of the time.
I confess that when I first saw this I assumed that they could have connected the expressways, but chose to do it this way to force drivers to go by all the fast food places and gas stations, just to get a few dollars from them.
I hate the PA Turnpike compared to the NYS Thruway, but in fairness the Thruway route is pretty flat in comparison. PA, like WV, is all hills and there is no good East/West route.
I don’t think we’ve ever driven West on Rt. 90 without encountering construction between the PA line and Erie, which is not that great a distance! When is this work going to be done??
Father’s have passed these construction jobs down to their sons for 3 generations.
It will never end.
The turnpike may be slow and under construction, but at least it’s expensive…..
No; 70 and 79 run co-located for a short distance. Like all such places where two roads are run together, it’s often a choke point.
Oops; should have read the previous and more complete replies.
I remember the days when the Turnpike often narrowed to one lane in each direction to get through the old railroad tunnels that had been repurposed for cars and trucks when the Turnpike was built.
And every holiday weekend there were massive jams at the tunnels.
Because he hadn’t crashed yet?
Alright. Everyone here claims to have been to have been to Breezewood, but nobody here has even hinted at the town’s slogan: The Town of Motels.
In 1966 the Breezewood Tourist Association paid $2,600 ($24,000 in today’s money) to put up this 12 foot by 36 foot neon nightlight just west of town.
As a kid that sign made me think it was some place just a bit sleazy, you know – like Las Vegas without the entertainment – where nobody had a home but everyone knew where you could rent a room for a couple of hours. C’mon… it was a town of nothin’ but motels. No hotels, just motels.