The View From The Fort Pitt Tunnel

Fort Pitt Tunnel

Anyone who has lived in Pittsburgh and taken a car ride (most likely everyone) has experienced the view from the Fort Pitt Tunnel of the downtown Pittsburgh skyline as you cross the Fort Pitt Bridge into town.  It’s legendary.  It’s famous.  It’s one of the first things visitors see when travelling into town from the Pittsburgh International Airport.  It’s… Pittsburgh Beautiful.    So beautiful, in fact, that it’s one of the most requested #LiveDrives we receive!   Here is just one of those drives through the Fort Pitt Tunnel to see the city after you exit.

The Fort Pitt Tunnel runs under Mount Washington.  It’s connected to downtown Pittsburgh via the Fort Pitt Bridge.  The inbound part of the tunnel provides the incredible view of Pittsburgh as you exit onto the upper deck of the Fort Pitt Bridge headed into town.  The lower deck of the bridge flows outward into the tunnel heading south out of Pittsburgh.    The inbound view of Pittsburgh from the Fort Pitt Tunnel is literally the first view a visitor sees of the actual city of Pittsburgh, with the Point, the bridges and three rivers.

Fort Pitt Tunnel

Before the tunnel existed, commuters from the South Hills of Pittsburgh would travel around Banksville Circle (Banksville Road and Saw Mill Run Blvd.).    The need for the tunnels entering and exiting Pittsburgh was quite obvious, so plans were designed in the early 1950s and the ground breaking ceremony for the construction of the Fort Pitt Tunnel was held on April 17, 1957.  Actual construction of the tunnel began in late August of the same year.    On September 1, 1960, the Fort Pitt Tunnels officially opened and traffic began to flow.   The legendary view of Pittsburgh through the Fort Pitt Tunnel was born!  Along with requests to show pictures of Pittsburgh with the Fort Pitt Tunnel view and videos of the tunnel in general, we get asked to show the same view of Pittsburgh through the tunnel at night.  You’re in luck… you can see it right here!

Let us know what your favorite view of Pittsburgh is… even if it’s also the view of Pittsburgh coming out of the Fort Pitt Tunnel.  And don’t forget to share your pictures with us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn.

Fort Pitt Tunnel


The Fort Pitt Tunnel is a significant transportation landmark in Pittsburgh. It serves as a vital link connecting the city with its growing suburbs. The construction of the tunnels, along with the accompanying Fort Pitt Bridge, played a crucial role in the major transportation upgrades initiated in the 1950s. These upgrades were part of Mayor David Lawrence’s Renaissance I, which contributed to the development of the Greater Pittsburgh metropolitan area. The impact of the Fort Pitt Tunnels on the city’s infrastructure rivaled that of the Liberty Tunnels and Bridge in the 1920s.

History of the Fort Pitt Tunnels

Fort Duquesne Tunnels and Bridge

The idea of building another tunnel through Mount Washington was first proposed in 1924. However, it gained significant attention in the 1930s due to the rapid development and population increase in the South Hills area. The existing road network, including Saw Mill Run Boulevard and Banksville Road, struggled to handle the growing traffic, leading to major congestion issues. Designers proposed the construction of twin tubes, each 3,750 feet long, through Mount Washington, along with an accompanying bridge near the Point Bridge. This project, known as the Fort Duquesne Tunnels and Bridge, was estimated to cost $8 million but was postponed due to funding challenges and the onset of World War II.

Before the Tunnels

Before the construction of the Fort Pitt Tunnels, the Banksville Traffic Circle served as the connecting link for Saw Mill Run Boulevard, Banksville Road, and Woodville Avenue. Traveling from this point to downtown Pittsburgh was challenging, with the only options being the Liberty Tunnels or the West End Circle. However, in the early 1950s, the circle was replaced, marking the beginning of the transformation in the area.

The First in the World

In February 1956, the Fort Pitt Tunnel Commission announced the start of the tunnel boring process. The two tubes would consist of four lanes, with portal traffic at one end moving over two different levels. This unique feature made the Fort Pitt Tunnels the first tunnel in the world to have such a design. The northern portals were vertically offset to accommodate the double-deck construction of the Fort Pitt Bridge. Inbound traffic crossed the bridge on the upper deck, while outbound traffic used the lower deck and entered the tunnel portal approximately 40 feet lower in elevation. The southern portals were equal in elevation, as the outbound bore gradually rose to meet the elevation of its neighbor.

Fort Pitt Tunnel Construction (1957-1959)

The groundbreaking ceremony for the Fort Pitt Tunnel took place on April 17, 1957. The boring of the tunnels began on August 28, 1957, and was completed in May of the following year. The excavation process involved removing approximately 7,000 railroad carloads of rock and debris, which were then used to fill a nearby valley along Banksville Road. The roadway surface was paved with bricks, which created a soft, steady humming sound as vehicles passed through the tunnels. Bright reflective tiles lined the walls, and a dropped ceiling increased illumination.

The tunnels were also equipped with antennas capable of picking up both AM and FM radio signals, providing motorists with entertainment during their journey. Powerful blowers at each end of the tunnels ensured clear air circulation. Although the tunnels had walkways, these were reserved for tunnel personnel and not pedestrians. A control room located at the southern portal featured television screens for monitoring traffic and a panel with various electronic controls. The use of television for monitoring tunnel traffic was a groundbreaking feature at the time.

The construction project took nearly two years to complete and cost $17 million.

Dedication Day and Significance

The Fort Pitt Tunnels were officially opened on September 1, 1960, with a dedication ceremony attended by Governor David Lawrence, Pennsylvania Transportation Secretary Park H. Martin, and Pittsburgh Mayor Joseph M. Barr. The tunnels were celebrated as a significant step forward in Pittsburgh’s redevelopment, offering improved transportation and convenience for motorists. The dedication ceremony included a procession of vintage vehicles led by the Governor and Mayor, signifying the tunnels’ operational status.

The Fort Pitt Tunnels and Bridge became the new gateway to the city, serving as an essential part of the modernization effort proposed by Robert Moses in 1939. The tunnels quickly became a popular route for commuters, helping to alleviate traffic congestion and spur development in the west and southwest areas of downtown Pittsburgh.

Out of Control Trucks and Tunnel Reconstruction

The inbound approach to the Fort Pitt Tunnels is located at the bottom of Greentree Hill, a downhill stretch of highway with a 6% grade. Truck drivers are warned about the steep grade and advised to downshift and use the right lane. Despite these precautions, accidents involving trucks losing control and colliding with other vehicles have occurred. Runaway trucks have caused collisions at the tunnel entrance, inside the tunnels, on the bridge, and even in downtown Pittsburgh.

To address ongoing safety concerns, the Fort Pitt Tunnels underwent significant rehabilitation between 1993 and 2003. The project included the replacement of the granite and metal facades at the north and south portals. Additionally, the tunnels received a comprehensive overhaul, including the replacement of the roadbed, drainage systems, electrical systems, and wall tiles. The dropped tile ceiling was removed, revealing the arched concrete ceiling above. The project aimed to ensure the long-term functionality and safety of the Fort Pitt Tunnels and Bridge.

Future Expansion Proposal

As part of a $1.6 billion modernization plan, a proposal to expand the Fort Pitt Tunnels has been discussed. The plan suggests the construction of two additional tunnels, one on each side of the existing tunnels, to alleviate rush hour congestion. These new tunnels would add two inbound and two outbound lanes, helping to accommodate the projected increase in traffic on Greentree Hill by 2025. The proposal aims to find a solution to potential traffic issues and ensure the smooth flow of vehicles in the coming years.

The Fort Pitt Tunnels have played a crucial role in Pittsburgh’s transportation infrastructure, connecting the city with its suburbs and facilitating the city’s growth. With their unique design and innovative features, the tunnels have become a symbol of Pittsburgh’s modernization efforts. Despite challenges, such as accidents involving out-of-control trucks, the tunnels have undergone significant rehabilitation to ensure their functionality and safety. With the potential expansion plans, the Fort Pitt Tunnels continue to adapt to the city’s evolving transportation needs. As a gateway to Pittsburgh, the Fort Pitt Tunnels remain an iconic feature of the city’s landscape, offering a memorable entrance for travelers from the west.

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