Abandoned turnpike will be in documentary

Film will be based on ‘Voices of Chernobyl’ book

The Southern Alleghenies Conservancy has approved the use of its abandoned turnpike along Breezewood for a documentary filming about the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident.

From March 22-24, videographer Toni Comas will film a scene at the abandoned turnpike to depict an interaction between a police officer and a “liquidator,” a term to describe workers who entered the contaminated area between 1986-89, along a highway.

Comas said the documentary is based on the award-winning “Voices of Chernobyl” book by Svetlana Alexievich and will re-enact a series of testimonies about the people who lived in Chernobyl the year of the explosion.

The abandoned turnpike is an ideal setting to shoot for the documentary, Comas added.

“The environment of the turnpike definitely looks like time has stopped,” wrote Comas in an email. “The vegetation is very similar to Chernobyl, so it is perfect for us.”

Donald Schwartz, a member of SAC, said “We did vote to approve him to film. We’re very excited about this.” Schwartz said the abandoned turnpike is an “extremely historic site” and its use for the documentary highlights its historic value.

The cause of the April 26, 1986, Chernobyl accident was a flawed Soviet reactor design operated by “inadequately trained” staff, as reported by the World Nuclear Association. The steam explosion and fires killed two plant workers the night of the accident and released at least 5 percent of the radioactive reactor core into the atmosphere.

Within a few weeks of the accident, 28 people died due to radiation poisoning. The Chernobyl Power Complex, which lies north of Kiev, Ukraine, officially became a tourist attraction in 2011. It consisted of four nuclear reactors.

SAC has owned the abandoned turnpike since 2001, but is set to transfer ownership to Bedford and Fulton counties. The two counties are aiming to form a municipal authority by April to fix two abandoned turnpike tunnels to create a recreational facility.

Bedford County Com­missioner Paul Crooks said he hopes the documentary filming at the turnpike brings more positive attention to the site.

Aside from the documentary filming, Schwartz said there are numerous recreational uses for the turnpike, including camping, light shows, festivals, geocaching and so on. “This is going to be a large regional attraction,” he said. “It needs to be preserved so everyone can enjoy it.”

But the property has to be stabilized first, Schwartz said. “It’s very rugged out there.”

According to the U.S. Department of Transporta­tion, construction for the turnpike began in the 1880s as a railway route, resulting in a total of 4.5 miles of tunnels dug through seven mountains. But construction was never completed. The turnpike opened in the fall of 1940 as a four-lane highway.

The 13-mile stretch of the turnpike, including three tunnels and a travel plaza, east of the Breezewood area was dubbed the “Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike” in 1968. It was also featured in “The Road,” a 2009 movie about a post-apocalyptic world.

Mirror Staff Writer Shen Wu Tan is at 946-7547.