PennDOT plans full season of construction

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In addition to providing $290 million toward smoother roads and better bridges, this year's Pennsylvania Department of Transportation local construction program will begin to erase some notable transportation eyesores:

• The missing facades at the Liberty Tunnels.

• The cracked and broken sidewalks and lumpy patchwork of pavement on West Carson Street heading toward McKees Rocks.

• The Route 51-Route 88 intersection in Overbrook, which looks like it hasn't had much work since it opened in 1929.

The program also brings with it another season of dodge-barrel for drivers, as PennDOT continues or starts 90 projects in District 11, made up of Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties. Thirty-five are bridge replacements or rehabilitations.

"It's a pretty average program for the summer," district executive Dan Cessna said at a briefing Friday.

The biggest headache for drivers, the second year of the three-year, $49.5 million Squirrel Hill Tunnels rehabilitation project, will cause several full weekend closures of one tunnel or the other, starting with the outbound side March 22-25. Traffic will be forced to merge into a single lane and exit at Squirrel Hill for a looping detour back to the Edgewood-Swissvale on-ramp.

Outbound closures also are tentatively set for April 5-8, 19-22 and 26-29, with all closures running from 11 p.m. Fridays to 6 a.m. Mondays. Inbound weekend closures also are possible this year, Mr. Cessna said.

The fourth phase of renovations to the Liberty Tunnels, a project that began in 2008, will restore the entry facades at both ends to a look very similar to what graced the entrances when the tunnels opened in 1924. The $18.8 million phase will finish the tunnel interiors in a washable white surface. Much of the work will be done at night, but two 18-day around-the-clock closures, one in each direction, will be needed during the summer, Mr. Cessna said.

Route 28 construction will continue, causing several traffic shifts throughout the season as work at the 31st Street Bridge interchange nears completion. The overall project continues through late 2014.

After decades of talk and planning, PennDOT will start a major makeover of the dangerous, congested Route 51-88 intersection. The centerpiece of the $17 million to $18 million project is a "jug handle" for northbound traffic wanting to turn left at Route 88 or Glenbury Street.

That traffic will no longer be able to make a traditional left turn there; instead it will use the jug handle, which will wrap around the existing Rite Aid store at the intersection for a straight shot onto Route 88 or Glenbury.

Four badly decayed bridges and the antiquated traffic signals will be replaced, along with the worn-out signs that make passersby feel like they time-traveled back to the 1950s.

Two lanes of traffic will be maintained in both directions on Route 51 at all times, but some Route 88 closures and detours are anticipated. Work is expected to begin in the spring and continue at least through the 2014 construction season.

PennDOT will soon begin major reconstruction on West Carson Street from near the West End Bridge to McKees Rocks, a $40 million to $45 million project that will cause northbound traffic to be detoured via the West End Bridge, Route 65 and the McKees Rocks Bridge around the clock for the full construction season. The closure also will reroute outbound Port Authority buses that use the West Busway.

The project will reconstruct the road, put new sidewalks on the side opposite the existing brittle walkway and replace a 335-foot-long viaduct below the road that is seldom noticed by drivers.

Construction will start on a new $60 million to $80 million four-lane Hulton Bridge this fall, just upstream of the existing two-lane span over the Allegheny River between Harmar and Oakmont. Traffic will be maintained on the old bridge throughout the project. The goal is to complete the new bridge in time for the 2016 U.S. Open golf tournament at Oakmont Country Club, Mr. Cessna said.

The second season of rehabilitation work on the Ambridge-Aliquippa Bridge will begin Monday with full closure of the bridge, detouring traffic to the Sewickley Bridge until around Thanksgiving, when the $23.6 million project is scheduled for completion.

After Labor Day, PennDOT will begin demolition of the Heth's Run Bridge on Butler Street near the Pittsburgh Zoo in Highland Park, maintaining traffic on a temporary roadway to be built on the edge of the zoo parking lots while a new $16.7 million span is constructed.

Resurfacing of another five miles of Route 65 is planned on the North Side, picking up where last year's work left off.

PennDOT plans to reconstruct the intersection of Connor Road, Gilkeson Road and Route 19 in Mt. Lebanon and resurface nearly four miles of Route 19. The $4 million to $5 million project calls for adding a second through lane from Gilkeson to Connor to ease chronic backups there.

Two half-completed bridge projects -- Route 30 over Electric Avenue in North Braddock and Curry Hollow Road over railroad tracks in Pleasant Hills -- will be brought to the finish line, after a second season of single-lane traffic in the work zones.

The second and final year of a $4 million makeover of the Broughton-Baptist Road intersection in Bethel Park will cause detours and restrictions to be announced later.

Work on nearly $40 million in improvements to the Veterans Bridge Downtown is expected to wrap up early in the season.

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Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at www.post-gazette.com/Roundabout. Twitter: @pgtraffic.


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