If you mention driving through a tunnel to a Pittsburgher, you may get a look of constipated frustration in return. The Squirrel Hill Tunnel, Liberty Tunnel, and Fort Pitt Tunnel are notorious for traffic backups and head-scratching ‘why is this person slowing down when they get into this tunnel?’ outbursts.
But there’s one tunnel, for me at least, that I have always had an enjoyable experience travelling through — the Armstrong Tunnel. The Armstrong Tunnel has one end on the Duquesne campus with the other end at the 10th Street Bridge leading to the South Side. During my days of frequenting the South Side during the evening hours (which are gone, because I am old now), this was the best way to get into that area. You could take the back streets of the South Side and try to stay off of the snarled mess that is East Carson Street. It also holds a special place in my nerd heart because this was the first geocache I did by myself, called The Dragon’s Mouth (long since discontinued from the site, I believe).
The Armstrong Tunnel is odd because of the 45 degree bend in the tunnel, pretty much at the start of the Duquesne University end. Legend has it that the surveyors and engineers screwed up the alignment during construction, but the real truth is that the bend was installed due to geological considerations. The Armstrong Tunnel was built between 1926 and 1927 and is named for the Allegheny County Public Works Director at the time, Joseph G. Armstrong. You would think that the chief engineer for the County that designed it, Vernon Covell, may have been the named entity for this tunnel, but no, the engineers are overlooked yet again. Just toil away in the shadows, nerds.
The Armstrong is also unique in that is has a dedicated pedestrian walkway for foot travel to travel through. Imagine seeing people walking through the Fort Pitt or Squirrel Hill tunnel. The speed of the traffic through this tunnel is slightly more relaxed than the other major ones. Theoretically, it’s also a way for Uptown residents (and Duquesne University students) to access the South Side for their purchasing and entertainment needs.
If I were to ever film a movie, I would have a chase scene take place in this tunnel. I love the stone walls of the tunnel and the gothic entrance/exit portals with stone and concrete. The closest we got to a chase scene in the Armstrong was with the movie, Jack Reacher, and the car chase that took place on the 10th Street Bridge. Maybe a good foot chase with one guy chasing another guy? Is that too much to ask?
Pittsburgh is infamous for being able to get point A to point B, but not back from point B to point A. It’s hard to believe that in today’s day and age that a tunnel carrying a significant volume of traffic would be allowed to be constructed with a 45 degree bend, so the Armstrong represents a quirkiness that embodies Pittsburgh. Much like the artful nature of the portals and the cut-stone materials, the Armstrong represents an era that no longer exists, an era where beauty and functionality co-existed in public works projects.