Lack of traffic police makes West Carson Street mess much worse
September 27, 2013 4:00 AM
Motorists on West Carson Street heading toward the West End circle were backed up past Station Square Thursday afternoon, when there were no police directing traffic.
By Jon Schmitz Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Some drivers like to joke that putting police officers at crowded intersections to direct traffic actually slows things down.
But you aren't likely to hear that from drivers slogging down West Carson Street toward the West End Circle, who are dealing with evening rush-hour delays from the outbound closure of West Carson.
A Pennsylvania Department of Transportation construction contractor stopped putting off-duty police at the circle and the north end of the West End Bridge after last Friday, and some drivers complained that has made a tolerable situation much worse.
"When there's no officer there, it's not uncommon to see traffic back to the Fort Pitt Bridge in both lanes," said Mark Vignone, who has driven that route for 22 years on his way home to Robinson. Travel from the bridge to the circle can take a half-hour, or two to three times as long as when a police officer is controlling the signals, he said.
"It has gotten worse in recent days," agreed Heather Murray of Robinson. "Traffic moving up to the circle is much slower, and it is also backed up farther down Steuben Street. You can sit for a while on the ramp leading up to the traffic lights and West End Bridge."
Her travel time has gone from 40 minutes to an hour since the $39 million reconstruction of West Carson began, but she said she had feared it would be worse.
Scott Aber of Crafton Heights said he has seen traffic back to Station Square and waited 15 minutes just to negotiate the West End Circle. "In general, traffic in the West End is a complete nightmare," he said.
What happened to the police officers? PennDOT spokesman Steve Cowan said off-duty officers were scheduled to be in place daily from 6 to 10 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m. but "often the city cannot fill the position and no one shows."
Pittsburgh police disputed that, saying they had no problem finding officers to staff the job. Spokeswoman Diane Richard said the contractor "has not called to schedule officers" since last Friday, the end of a contract period that began when the construction project started in early August.
The contractor, Lane Construction, is obligated to furnish and pay for off-duty police officers needed for traffic control "as recommended by" PennDOT. Lane's successful bid set aside $500,000 for off-duty officers.
Mr. Cowan said that doesn't necessarily require the deployment of off-duty police and that PennDOT is having discussions about eliminating them.
"If the decision is made to remove the officers, the department will monitor the intersections. We would always have the option of utilizing the officers again," he said in an email.
With outbound West Carson closed, the posted detour is to cross the West End Bridge and take Route 65 to the McKees Rocks Bridge. The closure is scheduled to last for two years.