The split interchanges at Exits 48 and 49 on Interstate 81 have been a part of the local road network since May 1963.
Back then, the exits were part of a 5.3-mile section of recently completed highway known as the Carlisle Bypass by area residents and state transportation officials.
The Sentinel on April 2, 1962, published a status report on the construction of a 52-mile stretch of I-81 that ran from the Maryland border in Franklin County north to Middlesex Township, about three miles east of Carlisle.
The newspaper article broke down the project into sections based on the engineering notes of District 8 of the Pennsylvania Department of Highways. There was a brief write-up on each section.
The Carlisle Bypass was identified as “Cumberland County Section 4” in the article. In April 1962, the work was 85 percent completed on a project that had been underway since May 23, 1960, when the state awarded a $4.6 million contract to C.J. Langenfelder & Son of Baltimore.
The split interchanges were not always known as Exits 48 and 49. Prior to early 2001, exits were numbered in sequence based on their order from the border with Maryland. Today exits are designated based on their distance from the state line.
The April 1962 article described the two exits as “partial diamond” interchanges. Both are in South Middleton Township. Then as now, present-day Exit 48 is off York Road and provides a northbound exit and a southbound entrance to I-81 while present-day Exit 49 is off Trindle Road and provides a southbound exit and northbound entrance to the highway.
While the function of the split interchanges has not changed in 55 years, the surrounding land uses have changed, no doubt complicating a study that is underway to determine how to develop the split interchanges into full exits. This study is being paid for by a $75,000 Supplemental Planning Fund grant in response to a request submitted by the Army Heritage Center Foundation.
The foundation is the lead agency supporting the development and expansion of the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center. USAHEC is located on the campus of Carlisle Barracks, whose main tenant is the Army War College.
While the Barracks and War College existed in May 1963, USAHEC did not. Neither did the Carlisle Crossing shopping complex. One reason for the study is I-81 travelers are having difficulty accessing the War College, the shopping center and USAHEC because of the limited interstate access caused by the split interchanges.
Research on the history of the split interchanges was conducted this week at the Cumberland County Historical Society. The research included a key word search of digitized Sentinel newspaper editions as available on newspaper.com.
A search of editions from the late 1950s to early 1960s turned up no references of local residents voicing concerns or objections over the design of the split interchanges serving Trindle and York roads.
In 1963, there were far fewer cars and trucks moving through downtown Carlisle and Cumberland County. The development of I-81, I-83 and the Turnpike is one reason there has been an massive growth in the past 55 years.
Even though there was less traffic, there were enough cars and trucks moving through downtown to prompt widespread public support of what became the Carlisle Bypass section of I-81.
The state contract on bypass construction was awarded on May 23, 1960. Four days later, The Sentinel published an editorial on its opinion page titled “Traffic Bypass a Big Job.”
“[The bypass] will mark the culmination of Carlislers’ dreams for many years of a route that would carry all through truck and passenger traffic around the town instead of over High and Hanover streets and the Public Square,” the editorial reads. “This will be a notable improvement and, as it turns out, it is of such magnitude and cost that only the federal government can finance it.”
The editorial said the federal government shouldered about 90 percent of the costs of the Carlisle Bypass because I-81 was part of the interstate and defense system of highways. The editorial did not specify how the other 10 percent was funded.
By “many years” the editorial board was not kidding. The digitized newspaper search turned up a front-page article from June 4, 1957, having to do with rumors over the proposed route of the Carlisle Bypass. The lead paragraph reads:
“The on again off again Carlisle bypass, a hot potato for the past 15 years, spread new rumors around the borough and county today which were promptly rebutted by the State Highway Department in Harrisburg.”
The rumors were prompted by the placement of surveyor stakes running south from the Harrisburg Pike to a point just north of the Ritner Highway. “The staking out of areas south of Carlisle means nothing at this time,” R.A. Farley, chief engineer of the State Highway Department told The Sentinel. Farley said the route of the bypass hinged on the proposed route of U.S. Route 11.
The 1957 article provides proof the idea of a Carlisle Bypass was a topic of discussion going back to 1942 during World War II. It was President Dwight D. Eisenhower who championed the development of an interstate highway system after seeing the efficiency of the German autobahn. Eisenhower was the supreme allied commander in Europe during the war.