Things That Tick Me Off: Breezewood, Pa.

We returned from Chicago last night after a wonderful visit to my home town to celebrate my mother’s 85th birthday. On the way back, I found another entry in my list of “things that tick me off” – list of those things everything in life that I find extraordinary frustrating or moronic. I created this list as a cathartic exercise to keep me from spontaneous explosions or psychotic episodes. When I encounter something like this, I simply say “I’ll add it to the list.” This week’s addition is Breezewood, Pennsylvania.


Anyone traveling from the Midwest (millions of drivers each week) will usually take the Pennsylvania Turnpike to Interstate 70. While the other turnpikes simply connect to other turnpikes or interstates with ramps, drivers hit a bottleneck at Breezewood where millions of drivers are forced to pass through the unincorporated town and stop at a red light. The result is as you might expect if you put a red light in the middle of one of the nation’s busiest highways — gridlock at peak times. Over ten years ago, Business Week called Breezewood “perhaps the purest example yet devised of the great American tourist trap…the Las Vegas of roadside strips, a blaze of neon in the middle of nowhere, a polyp on the nation’s interstate highway system.” Since then, the problems have only multiplied with the increase in traffic.

I travel through Breezewood often and generally have little trouble. We often stop at the Starbucks on the way to Pittsburgh or Chicago to see relatives. It is the perfect distance for a stop from Washington.

Last night, however, I hit the city on a weekend coming from Chicago to Washington — particularly a Sunday. We had just covered over 700 miles and four states over the prior ten hours. We then spent over an hour moving less than a mile in the chaos that is Breezewood. First, millions encounter just four or five booths to leave the turnpike. It was so bad yesterday (45 minutes just to get to the booth) that I asked the turnpike collector if this was a worst than usual day. He laughed and said that it was a typical Sunday. Then, you faced even greater chaos as cars get out of the gates and face gridlock as the five lines are merged into two lanes in a relatively short space. There are no painted lines so cars are every possible angle as they inch forward. This is to force all of the cars into a sharp curve to direct them into the center of Breezewood with its fast food joints and gas stations. The cars then hit the traffic light in the center of the town. The result can be traffic jams on three different highways that connect around the city.

In the ultimate trip through six states, we spent one-tenth of our time moving through Breezewood. Call me a skeptic, but I wonder if this is really necessary. Breezewood is historically a junction for travelers in the area. While you would not know it from the strip of fast-food joints and tee-shirt shops, the town goes back to colonial times and once housed British troops. However, it would seem easy to create a bypass ramp from the turnpike to 1-70 or an elevated ramp at the intersection to allow traffic to move directly to 1-70 without stopping at the light or the town.

This is of course not unique. There are other planned bottlenecks between highways, but few are at such a critical junction. While the transfer results in millions of dollars in sales for Breezewood, it adds huge delays for travelers going to Washington or other East Coast destinations. Such tourist traps can produce a race to the bottom if other states burden the Interstate System with bottlenecks and loops through towns like Breezewood. While there are an estimated 1000 people working in the city, millions are delayed with added costs of fuel and time. Many of us would still stop in Breezewood if we were given a choice but we are not given the choice. It is time to remove the bottleneck with a bypass in Breezewood.

Now I feel better.

31 thoughts on “Things That Tick Me Off: Breezewood, Pa.”

  1. If I got stuck in Breezewood once by mistake and I had reason to do the trip again, I’d look for a different route.

    As Rich points out, I’d probably pick up I79 at Pittsburgh, then I68 to I70 directly south of Breezewood. The number of miles added is negligible on a trip of this length and the time saved would be a lot.

    Professor needs a new trip planner.

  2. eniobob has the right reason for the origination of this abomination. Similar situations exist in PA at the junction of the Northeast Extension of the Turnpike with I-80 and the junction of the Turnpike with I-79 north of Pittsburgh.

    I’m not familiar with the story of toll collectors doing a quick calculation with the toll tickets. I do remember reading, however, that the Turnpike tried sending out automated speeding tickets in the early days of E-Z Pass. The story goes that this practice was discontinued because it was holding down E-Z Pass usage

  3. junctionshamus,

    Never happened to me and I traveled that route constantly for many years. Speeding is a necessity when climbing the inclines trying to get out of the semi-pack. Also, for that matter, when going down the inclines trying to stay out of the way of the semis. It’s an honest to god nightmare.

    The W VA pike can be worse but if one is out of the pack and evening or very early morning is approaching, the scenery is breathtaking.

    Then there’s the fog ….

  4. Question to JT and/or other PA Turnpikers – Have heard the rumor that when the speed limit was 55 (don’t know what it is now), when the toll booth attended processed your pass, that if your entry time and exit time calculated a speed over 55 mph, that a PA State Trooper would write you a summons for speeding, in excess, the turnpike ticket being prima facie evidence of speeding.

    True, or suitable for Snopes (although they’ve had their issues for accuracy/veracity as well)? Inquiring minds want to know.

  5. Ah, Breezewood … I feel your pain. Particularly harrowing is a winter ride along the PA Turnpike narrowly surviving the 1,000 semis playing chicken with each other only to be rewarded with the gaudy lights of Breezewood.

    Next time catch the train at Union … Capitol Limited … reserve Roomettes as the least expensive of 1st class travel which also includes all meals and arrive in downtown Chicago thoroughly rested and ready to begin your holiday. The kids will love it!

  6. Remember going through Breezewood on trips as a kid, and we’d stop at the Superior (chain) Motel, because it had a pool.

    My biggest rant about trips as a kid? My parents had a ’68 Chevy station wagon. Mom and dad up front, and three sisters in the middle seat. I was relegated to the rear-facing back seat, along with the coolers, suitcases and other misc. crap packed for the trip. Never saw where we were going, only saw where we’d been.

    One-time advantage – went to cloudy Florida on a trip (winter time), and going up 95 to DC, I was the only one in the family with a tan when we got home.

  7. Ah Breezewood, neither breezy nor woody. NY to Pittsburgh milestone, mill stone, full of memories and coffee cups. Summer vacation, turkey trot and Christmas rush. Fellow travelers and family members. Sighs and whines. America on the road.

  8. The first time we went through was in ’51 (I was a kid) on a trip to Williamsburg and DC. Breezewood was a tourist trap then, and only two lanes. Cops lurked behind every gas station, waiting for a furriner to make an unsignaled turn in for fuel.
    One memory: At Natural Bridge park, I saw White and Colored plumbing facilities, a raw awakening for a kid.
    Now, after the Breezewood insult, there’s the Beltway, making a 320 mile trip from Cleveland take longer than the 375 mile trip to see the grandkids far north of Chicago.

  9. I agree with OS. I know which town to avoid now, the next time I drive to DC. Professor Turley, I feel your pain. I always seem to have trouble in Northern Indiana on the tollway when I am traveling to the East. They always find a way to cause a bottleneck.

  10. The last time I was reincarnated I had been a good human and the guy standing in for Saint Peter at the Holy Gates let me come back as a dog. But the guy next to me had been a bad human and they were close to sending him to Hell but opted for Limbo or what some dogs call Pergatory. So he is going out the door and showed me his papers on the way back down. Breezewood, PA.

  11. Now I know another tourist trap to avoid. I have always made a habit of not stopping at such places when the tourist trap or speed trap setup is obvious. I have come to hate interstates for the most part anyway. I take the old US highways the interstates replaced. See more countryside, get to take pictures and often meet interesting people. As I grow older, speed is less important than quality of life. On the other hand, the kids are grown and no longer fight in the back seat.

    I love maps.

  12. Oh, I hate Breezewood! It’s the worst thing on any roads. I hate the entire idea of driving to the Midwest because of it.

  13. FYI:
    “Funding rules result in an unusual connection

    I-70/I-76 Interchange
    I-70 uses a surface road (part of US 30) with at-grade intersections to connect the freeway heading south to Hancock, Maryland with the ramp to I-76, which through this section is the Pennsylvania Turnpike toll road. According to the Federal Highway Administration, a division of the United States Department of Transportation, the peculiar arrangement at Breezewood resulted because at the time I-70’s toll-free segment was built, the state did not qualify for federal funds under the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 to build a direct interchange, unless it agreed to cease collecting tolls on the Turnpike once the construction bonds were retired;[9] a direct interchange would have meant that a westbound driver on I-70 could not choose between the toll route and a free alternative, but would be forced to enter the Turnpike. However, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission was not willing to build the interchange with its own funds, due to the expected decrease in revenue once Interstate 80 was completed through the state.[9] Accordingly, the state chose to build the unusual Breezewood arrangement in lieu of a direct interchange, thus qualifying for federal funds because this arrangement gave drivers the option of continuing on the untolled US 30.[9]”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breezewood,_Pennsylvania

  14. The American and his car…..
    The American: the long-distance traveler……
    Romney, 12 hours into his trip with a station wagon full of kids, and a sick dog on the roof……
    How many hours do you drive without a leg-stretcher?
    Which pit-stop number is Breezewood?

    Is this a symbol of the federalist system, Congress, our government?

    Or our mania for working increasing amounts and decreasing returns; and shorter lifetimes, greater frequency of illness, and less free time?

    Annie Liebowitz said in the film by her sister: that
    her family spent their lives in a car when she was a kid. That was the natural way to see things: through the window framing everything. Was she kidding us?

    I think I will start a “ticked me” list. A useful tool, it would appear.

  15. Have done Breezewood many times coming/going to Cleveland from DC. It’s usually only a trainwreck around this time of year. DC/Balt folks coming home and tourists on their way to DC. Consider the alternative (which adds time/miles to the trip but mitigates some hassle–which is coming back via I-68. You’d drop down to Indy then pick up 70 and drop down on 79.

  16. Laughing. As kids traveling from Ohio to NJ, we loved Breezewood. As adults we are at least grateful for a nice Starbucks midst all the awful food choices. But OY! the traffic never ceases to amaze.

  17. You got to give the lobbyist credit for this….. Now who owns the gas station, truck stop……. Nah…. Our system would not be that corrupt….

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