The Allegheny Tunnel bypass plan. (Jennifer Kundrach/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

For more than 30 years, the Pennsylvania Turnpike has been periodically studying what to do with the Allegheny Tunnel, a Somerset County facility that is expensive, poses a safety concern and does not allow trucks with hazardous material to pass through.

During that time, residents and property owners have complained that they haven’t had enough input or involvement with those plans. With the agency ready to pursue an option to bypass the tunnel with a half-billion-dollar road construction project over the next 10 years that would carve out 10 million cubic yards from the side of the mountain, residents have formed a nonprofit organization to challenge the plans, Citizens to Save Allegheny Mountain.

“We very much disagree with [the idea of replacing the tunnel with a road],” said Mark Kissel, secretary/treasurer for CSAM. “It’s a permanent disruption to an idyllic habitat. We’re committed to having a dialogue with the turnpike on the environmental impact.”

The turnpike, after 15 months of developing the scope of work with the team of consultants doing four years of preliminary engineering for the project, is ready to begin hearing those concerns, said Nicholas Noss, the agency’s senior engineer project manager for the bypass project. Noss said the agreement with Bowman Consulting Group Ltd., hired in January 2023, took longer than expected.

“A project of this magnitude, it deserves that time,” Noss said. “We need to do this project, and we need to do it right. Now that we have our design team … we can deliver on the commitments we make.”

Noss said that begins with public engagement, which he conceded has been lacking over the years.

“I agree completely,” Noss said. “This project has been around since 1995. There has been very little dialogue. That dialogue is going to come in the coming months.”

A vintage postcard view of the Allegheny Tunnel on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

The long haul

CSAM incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit earlier this year and is assembling a broad coalition of support that includes a leadoff $19,000 donation from the Sierra Club. The coalition includes a bipartisan group of elected officials as well as environmentalists and nearby property owners.

The group sent the turnpike a letter last month outlining nine concerns that range from environmental disruptions to questionable weather conditions on the side of the mountain to interference with the water source for the Berlin Water Authority, where the massive amount of dirt will go, and fear of lack of public input until the engineering study is done in 2027.

The group is most upset about the implication that the turnpike came into the project committed to eliminating the tunnel, said Andy Musser, chairman of CSAM and an official with the Mountain Field and Stream Club in Stonybrook that stands to lose some property due to the path the new road is expected to follow. The turnpike said it studied three options, including boring a third tunnel through the mountain, before settling on a southern path around the mountain.

“We’ve been talking for years,” Musser said. “Their blinders are on. There’s going to be a cut.

“That’s why we’ve started the coalition. We’re getting the word out. We’re in the mode of building support.”

Preliminary engineering will determine the likely path of the 1-mile road that will include three bridges, but it is expected to bisect the 1,400 acres the field and stream club controls.

“We know it’s going to be a tough fight,” Musser said. “It’s not just the field and stream club. This will affect everything in the region.”

For Musser, it is a battle worth fighting.

“If you’re standing on the top of the mountain above the four-lane highway, you can just hear the birds and crickets chirping. You have to see it to appreciate it.”

Ready to listen

With much of the previous work on the project more than 10 years old, Noss stressed that the turnpike and Bowman are pretty much starting over and developing all new information for the bypass.

The detailed study will include all the items cited by CSAM and likely issues that haven’t been identified yet, Noss said.

“We realize our process is not well understood, and we have to do better with that,” he said. “We need to listen. We need to hear the concerns of everybody involved.

“There are impacts we’re not aware of yet. It’s not limited to the environment. There are people involved as well. We’re all going to learn through this.”

Noss said the turnpike will have detailed information available on its website and will hold at least quarterly meetings about the project, even if at times there isn’t much new information to discuss. The agency won’t wait for people to come forward.

“We’re not going to avoid [CSAM]. We will be reaching out to them directly,” Noss said. “Getting Bowman in place is key.

“I can’t commit to mitigating all impacts. But we know we can work together to reach the best solutions we can.”

Citizens to Save Allegheny Mountain can be reached by mailing:
c/o the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies
PO Box 110, Somerset, PA 15501
Or call (914) 233-0351.

Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

Ed Blazina

Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at