Pittsburgh: The Infinite Light at the End of the Tunnels
Pittsburgh has always been known or referred to as a neighborly city, unlike it’s brotherly city or sibling rival on the polar opposite side of the state. Yet it’s not entirely easy to navigate through the rolling hills of Pennsylvania where there are bends at every corner, steep inclines in irregular intervals, and the ceaseless roads are poorly paved, uneven and certainly are not straight or flat.
Driving through Pittsburgh is comparable to a roller-coaster, for you only have a few seconds to determine which lane you need to be in to head in the right direction; in fact, that’s why Pittsburgh is ranked one of the difficult cities to drive through and has some of the worst drivers on the road. If you can navigate through the city of Pittsburgh, you should cross it off your bucket list as an extraordinary feat that has been achieved.
What lies ahead on your drive could potentially bring both the expected and unexpected simultaneously. In fact, its a city strategically surrounded by a perfect triangular formation created by the Three Rivers (Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio — the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers merge at the Pointe to form the Ohio River) that can only be surpassed by crossing a multitude of yellow bridges built at least fifty-plus years ago (and that’s the bare minimum, for the first official and one of the most iconic bridges in Pittsburgh, the West End Bridge, was built several years post-Civil War era in 1887). Additionally, Mt. Washington safely guards the entrance to the Steel City, holding the lock and key to the rich history, culture and community that brought Pittsburgh to life and on the map since the time before the Revolutionary War.
From my personal experience growing up in the South Hills of Pittsburgh (about ten miles away from the heart of downtown), unless you wish to spend hours wandering through side streets and back-roads to get even remotely close to the city streets or decide to take the train (the T) into downtown (which only goes about ten to fifteen miles an hour on average and also, by the way, requires you to go through yet another tunnel: the Mt. Washington Transit Tunnel), there are only two routes that go inbound towards downtown from the south and guess what, they both involve tunnels to surpass the terrain of Mt. Washington.
The more notable of the two is called the Fort Pitt Tunnel (the other one is the Liberty Tunnel, which is both the longer tunnel distance-wise and is better to take if you are heading to Southside, Oakland, the Boulevard of Allies or anywhere east of the city). Driving through the Fort Pitt Tunnel is a breathtaking, marvelous, yet positively terrifying experience that visitors and residents get to enjoy; it can be a moving, reflective and thrilling experience — at least for me and Charlie, the Wallflower. It is perhaps one of the greatest grand entrances a city as to offer. The journey through the tunnels are just as glorious during the day as they are at nightfall.
You start out on I-376 (Parkway East and Exit 59A coming from the south) and drive past several exits to Carnegie, Heidelberg, Greentree, Mt. Lebanon, and Uniontown- then you drive underneath a set of train tracks suspended overhead by about five stories high. Along the highway, you pass several office parks, a radio station headquarters, apartment complexes and shopping centers. Once you notice the traffic starting to slow down to a steady crawl as the interstate road continues to make bends and turns and the increase of tunnel warning and Pittsburgh exit signs, you know that you are nearing the entrance of the Fort Pitt Tunnel. As you approach the tunnel, you get closer to the rocky cliffs and wooded terrain on Mt. Washington that towers almost at a perfect vertical angle with a few houses just slightly visible at the top.
In a matter of mere seconds, you go from being stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic for several minutes to being whisked away into darkness into a s
mall opening below where the silver, glittering letters of the name of the tunnel are mounted several feet above your head like Harry Potter pushing us trolley between the Platforms 9 and 10 at King’s Cross Station to reach Platform 9 3/4 to board the Hogwarts Express. Your eyes need a moment to adjust after the abrupt transition from board daylight to being enclosed in a dimly-lit tunnel. The only sources of light that penetrate the darkness come from the cars’ headlights, scores of small, amber-colored light bulbs along the square-tiled lined along the walls of the tunnel shimmering ever-so-slightly and what awaits the brave travelers at the end of the tunnel: the other side… the light… the city of Pittsburgh.
When you first enter the Fort Pitt Tunnel, a thought crosses your mind for a brief moment, thinking that the journey to the other side could take ages, perhaps even vaguely dreading the idea that you don’t want to feel claustrophobic or trapped halfway through the expedition with no escape route or turnoff point. Or you might think you must have transported into a different world momentarily as all the vibrant, lush colors, the fresh air, and light that makes up our beautiful planet Earth vanishes behind a thick, cement semi-circle enclosure that doesn’t allow you to change car lines. As you reach the middle of the tunnel and the opening comes near and near, you think you will never get their fast enough; you feel as if the light keeps getting further away from you every time you try to get closer — as if it was some sort of illusion or figment of your imagination.
Yet, like an orchestra building up to a crescendo, every detail, second, or moment of that drive that you take in will leave you breathless at the end, your mouth open just slightly ajar in astonishment.
However, as quick as our journey began, it can end in a sudden flash.
You see the opening right in front of you and what once was dark becomes radiant, infinite light. You emerge from the tunnel, greeted by the blinding light of broad daylight or the illuminated skyline, and out of the Fort Pitt Tunnel to witness this breathtaking view (seriously, it takes my breath away every time).
And there it is.
The City of Bridges.
The personality of the Steel City shines through all its million lights, buildings, bridges, and unique qualities that no other city has to offer (more of my articles will cover these fantastic features)! If you take a quick glance behind you the moment you exit the tunnel, you see the lush green hills that beautify Mt. Washington. Not even a hundred yards straight ahead is the golden, geometrical structure of the Fort Pitt Bridge with vibrant green exit signs taking you in three very distinct directions: Straight ahead to the heart of downtown, left towards the North Shore, or right to head East of the city where Oakland, Shadyside, and Monroeville are.
The irony of the grand entrance of Pittsburgh is that although it is stunning, its a view that cannot be enjoyed by the driver for too long, for you got barely twenty seconds from the moment you emerge from the journey in the tunnel to decide where you are going this time… on yet another adventure in the Steel City.
You might be asking yourself, what makes traveling through tunnels so special? How can the brief experience of emerging from the dark abyss into broad daylight become a cherishable memory that I can continually replay in my mind like infinite record being spun?
Traveling through any tunnels, but more specifically, traveling through the Fort Pitt Tunnel has personal significance in my life. If you haven’t read my debut book, Beyond Life’s Moments: An Empowering Outlook on Transcending Unexpected Setbacks, you will come to the realization that I have several Pittsburgh references embedded within the pages of my book; the most popular one happens to be using the phrase “the light at the end of the tunnel” and explicitly sharing scenes from my life story that involved me traveling or beholding with my own eyes the glorious City of Bridges after emerging from the Fort Pitt Tunnel on multiple occasions.
How you navigate through tunnels is directly correlated to how we should (and how I) have transcended life’s challenging chapters. No matter how dark life may seem, how much uncertainty lingers in the next minute, hour, day, and year(s) to come, or how many obstacles you must hurdle… where there is darkness, there is always light. Although when within the confines of the tunnel, it seems cold, damp, and dark with no end in sight or easy escape, always ahead of you… visible in the forward direction is the light.
The experience of traveling through tunnels and more specifically the Fort Pitt and Liberty Tunnels is how I would depict my personal accounts of going beyond life’s moments and overcoming both parents’ cancer diagnoses and my own battles with PTSD, anxiety, and depression. I thought my world was caving in, collapsing inwards with no hope or end in sight to the pain, stress, and grief I endured. Yet, all that pain turned into a distant memory and light, love and life that awaited my family and I at the end was infinite, resilient, and radiant.
The Fort Pitt Tunnel serves as the gateway, the bypass separating the southern suburbs of Pittsburgh from the heart of downtown. It separates two distinct worlds and proves time and time again to be an escape for both visitors and residents alike. One side is nothing but curved highways and green, hilly terrain and the other has an intricate city with its magnificent Three Rivers protecting it that it’s challenging to take in everything that is before and around you.
Every time I drive through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, it becomes an enlightening experience, serving as a continuous reminder that all tunnels come to an end… all dark times are temporary on our grand adventure of life. While traveling through the tunnel, I recall how I have the courage to surmount courses of obstacles, the ability to express genuine gratitude towards my home, and believe that when uncertainty strikes, just around the corner is always something better and brighter: the beyond, the light at the end of the tunnel.
Stay tuned for more articles. Want to read more about Pittsburgh’s significance in my life as I brought challenging chapters to light, my debut novel, Beyond Life’s Moments is now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and where most books are sold in ebook and paperback formats! Check out it today and dive into your beyond!
Here is the link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08PVYWPNP