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An end of a simpler time - Steps to the Church on the PA Turnpike to be removed

The nearly 70-year old Pennsylvania Turnpike has many quirks that you can't find on a modern freeway today. Large motorist pulloffs, numerous tunnels, a service plaza with a tunnel underneath the highway are some of the unique features that add to the Turnpike's lure. However, one unique piece that has been a special spiritual gem for many motorists will soon be removed.

The two sets of steps that allow motorists to access St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in New Baltimore will be removed by 2009 in a Turnpike upgrading and widening project.

The steps to the church were part of what is now believed to be a verbal agreement between the Church and the Turnpike in the late 1930s. In exchange for church land, the Turnpike built two sets of stairs -- one on each side of the highway -- to allow motorists access to the Church. For over 65 years, countless travelers -- including myself -- have stopped for mass or just to look around out of curiosity.

For more: Johnstown (PA) Tribune Democrat, "Turnpike changes bring end to church steps."
Holy Turnpike! - A photo essay on St. John's the Baptist Catholic Church has photos I and others have taken from visits there.

Commentary:

This is a bittersweet loss for the Turnpike. As a result of making much needed upgraded and widening to the highway, one of the most unique and to many people extremely special features of the turnpike will be lost. Over the course of the six years that I have had a feature on St. John's Church, I have received numerous e-mails of people asking about when masses are or sharing stories of their experiences of the church. I was lead to this story from a visitor's e-mail.

Many are upset by the upcoming loss of access to the Church. Sadly, it is necessary for safety of motorists and those who have parked their cars there. Although, there have not been any - to my knowledge - accidents because of vehicles pulled over to visit the Church, a number of years ago a deadly accident at another motorist pull-off caused closure of nearly half of the pull off areas.

Are there any compromises? I doubt it. The only one that can be possible is that the Turnpike build an interchange at New Baltimore. New Baltimore sits nearly in the middle of a 36 mile stretch between the Bedford and Somerset exits. An interchange would break up the lengthy 36 mile distance between interchanges, allow the village of New Baltimore access to the Turnpike, and motorists access to the Church.

I'd like to thank the visitor's to my feature on the Church for scooping me onto this story. I plan to learn more about it and keep you all informed.

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