Liberty Tunnels job stalls until spring

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A problem with paint that was applied to the interior walls has stalled the Liberty Tunnels rehabilitation project, a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation official said Friday.

The bright white paint was not adhering to the walls in a way that would allow it to be washed regularly, said Dan Cessna, PennDOT District 11 executive. The contractor must remove it and re-prepare and repaint the surface, work that was proving difficult because of cold weather, he said.

PennDOT has decided to suspend the work after Monday’s scheduled overnight closure of the tunnels until spring, he said. The $18.8 million fourth phase of tunnel rehabilitation was originally scheduled for completion by early last month.

Overnight tunnel closures will resume in April and continue into July. An exact revised schedule has not been finalized, Mr. Cessna said.

The fourth phase of a project that began in 2008 started in April and has resulted in replacement of the facades on both ends of the 89-year-old, 5,889-foot-long tunnels. About half of the paint on the inbound side was applied before the adhesion problem was diagnosed, he said.

A new painting method has been devised and project officials are confident that it will be durable enough to last 20 years, giving the tunnel a much brighter and cleaner appearance.

“We’ll probably be over our original budget, but we’re going to end up with a superior product,” Mr. Cessna said. “It’ll be a bright white, very cleanable.”

Officials had little background information about tunnel painting projects when specifications were written, and the result “unfortunately [was] you learned a little bit as you go,” he said.

Still to be sorted out is how any extra cost will be shared by PennDOT and the contractor, Swank Construction Co. of New Kensington. The company will be given extra time to complete the work without being hit with delay penalties that are built into the contract.

“The tunnel looks ugly inside right now. I don’t like the way the tunnel looks right now,” Mr. Cessna said. “The finished product will look quite good.”

Jon Schmitz:, 412-263-1868 or on Twitter: @pgtraffic. First Published December 20, 2013 11:46 AM

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