Breezewood, Pa., famed interstate traffic choke point | A photo essay

There is a stretch of I-70 in west-central Pennsylvania where motorists must exit the freeway and go through two traffic lights before continuing. It is one of the few gaps in the entire Interstate highway system. That gap is the town of Breezewood.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
There is a stretch of I-70 in west-central Pennsylvania where motorists must exit the freeway and go through two traffic lights before continuing. It is one of the few gaps in the entire Interstate highway system. That gap is the town of Breezewood.

Business Week once called the central Pennsylvania village “a polyp on the nation’s interstate highway system.” Business leaders there prefer “Breezewood: Town of Motels, Food, and Fuel.”

There are fewer vehicles on the nation’s highways due to the coronavirus pandemic, but millions of drivers still pass through the village’s two stoplights in the one-of-a-kind quarter-mile gap in the middle of I-70 where it meets the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Roadside attractions like South of the Border in South Carolina and Wall Drug in South Dakota lure in interstate travelers with highway signs and giveaway gimmicks. I-70 drivers in Pennsylvania get off at Breezewood because they have no other choice. Unlike thousands of others across the country, no cloverleaf interchange connects the two major highways.

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TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
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Travelers have been stopping there for centuries. Native Americans blazed the first trails. A young George Washington and British Gen. John Forbes passed through, as did Conestoga wagons on their way out west.

And by the mid-1920s, when automobile travel increased, a new roadside landscape evolved. Breezewood — located right along the newly created Lincoln Highway — was poised to serve motorists with gas stations, auto camps, motels, and restaurants.

It was already a “road town” when the Pennsylvania Turnpike opened in 1940 and, unlike many small towns that were bypassed when President Dwight Eisenhower created the 41,000-mile national system of interstate highways, Breezewood thrived.

In the beginning, federal regulations prevented toll roads from connecting directly to the free interstates. That is no longer a rule, but Breezewood remains one of the few places with traffic lights on an interstate. It continues to interrupt I-70′s 2,100-mile route between Baltimore and Utah. And Breezewood is just fine with that.

TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer