Outbound Liberty Tunnel to close tonight

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An optimist might regard it as a chance to broaden one’s horizons rather than just an annoying tunnel closure.

That’‍s about the only way we can think of to gloss over the fact that the outbound Liberty Tunnel, a major escape route from Downtown Pittsburgh to the South Hills, is scheduled to close for 16 days starting at 8 tonight.

The tunnel will get a fresh coat of white paint, a job scheduled for last fall but delayed when the paint wasn’t adhering properly. The work will affect 18,400 drivers who use the outbound tunnel on a typical weekday.

“The decision was made to close it continually so we could finish this project,” said Steve Cowan, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. “Instead of having months worth of overnight closures or single-lane restrictions, we thought it best to close one side of the tunnel, get it done as quickly as possible, then switch to the inbound side.”

Dates for the inbound closure have not been set, but it is expected to be of similar duration as the outbound shutdown. No inbound restrictions are scheduled, but some might occur at night while the outbound painting is done, Mr. Cowan said.

The principal detour for outbound traffic is to turn right at McArdle Roadway to Merrimac and Woodruff streets in Mount Washington to reach Route 51. Those who go that way are likely to have plenty of company and time to drink in the view of the Golden Triangle, especially during peak driving periods. Three lanes on the Liberty Bridge are devoted to outbound motorists during the typical afternoon rush — traffic that will be squeezed into the one lane that climbs Mount Washington.


During a long-term closure of the outbound tunnel during facade work last summer, “there were definitely issues with congestion” at rush hour, Mr. Cowan said. “If you can avoid the [McArdle] detour, if you know an alternate route ... you should use that alternate.”

There are several options, depending on one’‍s destination and degree of wanderlust. One is the Fort Pitt Bridge and Tunnel, already crowded without the addition of Liberty Tunnel refugees. Another is the West End Bypass, with the risk there coming from the ongoing closure of outbound West Carson Street beyond the West End Circle, which frequently causes backups during peak times.

Another is the Birmingham Bridge to a right on East Carson Street, left on South 18th Street, which continues to Brownsville Road, and a right turn on Bausman Street to reach Route 51.

Motorists headed deeper into the South Hills can go left at East Carson to a right on Becks Run Road, left at Brownsville Road and right on Maytide Street to Route 51.

Using Second Avenue and Irvine Street through Hazelwood to the Glenwood Bridge provides access along Route 885 to right turns at Lebanon Road and Lebanon Church Road to get to Route 51 at the cloverleaf in Pleasant Hills, or to Baldwin and Streets Run roads to Route 51 at Whitehall.

For many, the better choice might be to leave the car behind and use public transit. Port Authority buses and rail cars use the Mount Washington Transit Tunnel to reach the South Hills.

For the weekend, though, the authority will have its own detour, on the Red Line, during track work in Beechview. Red Line service will detour in both directions, using Blue Line routing to South Hills Junction, where it will resume regular routing to Station Square, Downtown and the North Shore. Local light rail shuttles will operate from Overbrook Junction to Potomac Station, and T stops from Potomac to South Hills Junction/​Station Square will be served by shuttle buses.

Renovation of the 90-year-old, 5,889-foot-long tunnels began in 2008 and was divided into five phases because of insufficient funding to do everything at once. The current fourth phase includes replacement of the facades on both ends of the tunnels, restoring them to their original appearance. Officials said the paint job is expected to last 20 years and will give the tunnels a brighter appearance.

Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1868 or on Twitter @pgtraffic.

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