The Department of Transportation is retreating from a proposal to reduce congestion on the Parkway East by restricting on-ramp access, the head of the regional engineering district said Tuesday.
The agency had budgeted $5 million to design and build a ramp-metering system after a study commissioned from the University of Pittsburgh concluded a combination of ramp closures and traffic signals could help relieve congestion. U.S. cities -- including Minneapolis and Detroit -- have found using red-green signals to stagger vehicle entry onto highways has improved traffic flow and safety, according to the report. In Pittsburgh, metered ramps could trim five minutes from the morning inbound commute through the Squirrel Hill Tunnel and four minutes leaving the city in the evening, the study found.
But the idea sparked opposition, and Dan Cessna, the executive of PennDOT engineering District 11, said Tuesday that the transportation agency is no longer planning to move forward.
The agency had always intended to develop alternatives and solicit feedback before proceeding with the recommendations, and engineering had not begun on the ramp project, Mr. Cessna said. Construction was budgeted for 2016 in the draft Transportation Improvement Program for the region.
Mr. Cessna said engineers in January will begin evaluating the entire Parkway East corridor and its adjoining network of roads.
"PennDOT is really taking a step back and looking at how we're preparing our scope of work for Parkway East to evaluate the entire transportation network that serves the communities and the Parkway East along that corridor," Mr. Cessna said in a phone interview. "There's been no decisions with regard to any ramps that might or could be closed or metered."
As transportation officials looked at the Pitt study, they realized a more comprehensive examination was needed, he said.
And after metered ramping was included in a draft plan for transportation projects, they found it receiving criticism from residents who thought restricted ramp access was a certainty.
"Due to lack of information, it's being received very negatively," he said.
While officials plan to study the whole of the parkway and its adjoining routes, Mr. Cessna said any expansion of the highway would be too expensive to consider.
Earlier Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, said he planned to send Mr. Cessna a letter asking for a halt to work involving the metering or closing of on-ramps to Parkway East. Mr. Costa said the plan would push traffic from the highway into the surrounding neighborhoods.
"The inconvenience to those communities, and the harm and impact on those communities that are affected, is far greater than the few minutes of travel time that would be provided to motorists coming in from areas outside the city and eastern suburbs," he said. Mr. Costa said the $5 million budgeted for the project would be better spent on repairs to roads, bridges and mass transit.
Karen Langley: email@example.com or 1-717-787-2141.