The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation seems to have hit on a novel solution to eliminating the traffic that backs up on the Parkway East inbound before the tunnel: Eliminate the tunnel.
Suddenly that traffic was gone.
Merchants and police along the detour route Saturday morning through Pittsburgh's East End speculated that most drivers, hearing the warnings that there could be horrific traffic jams due to construction work on the tunnels, solved the anticipated back-up problems by just staying away. The result was a lovely, smooth ride along South Braddock Avenue that was less congested than on a normal weekday morning.
Drivers along the route could not be asked about the detour because of their excessive speed.
"The last time this happened it was pretty backed up," Steve Nakamura, chief instructor at Steve DeMasco's Shaolin Studios in Regent Square, said about the traffic. Westbound Parkway traffic was detoured on South Braddock several years ago when PennDOT did resurfacing work in the inbound tunnel.
On Saturday, attendance in his classes was off by about 60 percent, he said.
Regent Square merchants gave police officers the credit for keeping the traffic moving. Officers were stationed at every light.
"I expected it to be chock-a-block with traffic," said Matt Weber, a clerk at Le Mix, an antiques and collectibles store on South Braddock, as vehicles traveled past his front door.
He said the parkway backup was much worse when just one lane through the tunnel was open. On Saturday he avoided the parkway on his way to work, but peeked at the roadway from an overpass to see no backup at all.
To be fair, there were periods when the traffic was worse than others -- like early evening Saturday.
But for drivers, no detour was better than even a good one. The daylight detour measured 41/2 miles to be traveled at city speeds instead of the 21/2 miles through the Squirrel Hill Tunnel at highway speeds.
A driver who traveled the detour in the morning spent about 20 minutes on the road instead of the 5-minute travel time through the tunnel. The daylight detour, which begins 6 a.m. today, runs along South Braddock Avenue to Forbes Avenue with a left onto Beechwood Boulevard past Frick Park and then a right down Forward Avenue to the Parkway East.
The nighttime detour, which begins at 8 p.m., does not turn at Beechwood. Instead, drivers stay on Forbes and turn left onto Murray Avenue down to the parkway entrance at Forward. The nighttime detour is a little less than a mile shorter, but adds half a dozen more traffic lights through Squirrel Hill's congested business district. Pittsburgh police said traffic wasn't an issue shortly after 8 p.m. when the detour changed.
Not since the closing of the Fort Pitt Bridge in 2004 has there been as big a prediction of a traffic jam that didn't materialize.
This is the first of eight weekends that the inbound tunnel will be closed in the next two years as part of the $49.5 million tunnel improvement project. It is expected to reopen at 5 a.m. Monday. The date of the next closure has not yet been announced.
PennDOT has created a website to provide information on travel times on the Squirrel Hill detour routes. The address is http://public.jamlogic.com/Trafax/264/1.
First Published July 29, 2012 4:00 AM