Fewer, better travel plazas slated for Pennsylvania Turnpike

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Truckers may have more trouble finding parking along the Pennsylvania Turnpike the next few years, but relief is on the way. The Turnpike’s 18 travel plazas are being remodeled in a $170 million project, says spokesman Carl DeFebo.

Each renovated plaza will offer more truck parking than it did before, DeFebo says, although he could not say exactly how many more spaces would be created. “The challenge is to get more parking where we can,” DeFebo says.

The oldest plazas date to the opening of the first section of Turnpike in 1940, the 160 miles between Carlisle and Irwin. Rather than rebuild a plaza a section at a time, a process that would take two to three years, officials elected to close three or four plazas annually between Labor Day and Memorial Day and completely rebuild them, DeFebo says. The first was Oakmont, which reopened in June.

In September, the Allentown, Sideling Hill and North Somerset plazas closed. The Turnpike will close several more for remodeling each year until the entire project is finished in 2011.

Three travel plazas will be eliminated altogether. Hempfield and South Neshaminy already have closed, and North Neshaminy is slated to close in 2010.

HMSHost and Sunoco, which historically have managed the plazas, were awarded the 30-year contract to build, manage and maintain the new plazas. The main buildings will be 5,000 square feet larger and have 24-hour convenience stores and restaurants. Other improvements include “touch-free” restrooms, landscaped grounds with pet walking paths, and state-of-the-industry technology and security systems. Service stations will offer more modern fuel-pumping areas, more staffing and alternative fuels.

Turnpike officials predict gross sales at all 18 plazas will total $3.5 billion during the term of the lease. The Turnpike will get a 4 to 4.5 percent share of gross plaza receipts as rent and will receive 1 cent per gallon of diesel and gasoline sold, plus 1 percent of gross convenience-store receipts.

A strong recommendation from the National Transportation Safety Board several years ago resulted in the elimination of more than half the pulloff areas along the Turnpike. The board says pulloffs less than 30 feet wide should be eliminated after a bus crashed into a parked truck in a pulloff near Burnt Cabin, killing seven.