In the 11 years since a worker's negligence led to a fiery head-on collision that killed six people on the Parkway North HOV lanes, PennDOT has invested in a series of improvements to avoid a recurrence.Bill Wade, Post-Gazette
The new, "fast-acting" gate to the HOV lanes at Bedford Avenue near Mellon Arena.
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Graphic: HOV safety upgrade
The latest -- a $770,000 automated gate system that inbound motorists will use when they exit HOV lanes in Pittsburgh -- was unveiled yesterday and will be activated Monday morning.
Officials demonstrated the new "fast-acting" gates at the Bedford Street entrance/exit to the HOV lanes next to Mellon Arena. The other gates are on the North Shore, at Anderson Street north of the Rachel Carson (Ninth Street) Bridge, and at Mazeroski Way near PNC Park.
The gates are the latest in a series of investments that PennDOT has made since the 1995 crash to improve safety, including television monitoring, automated interlocks on permanent gates and improved signs.
The new gates will be in the "down" position during the morning rush hours, when the reversible HOV lanes operate in the inbound direction. Overhead sensors will detect approaching inbound vehicles, raising gate-arms to the "up" position and enabling drivers to continue their trip.
During afternoon rush hours, and all weekend when the system is open in the outbound direction and when a two-to-a-vehicle minimum occupancy rule is not in effect, the gate-arms will remain up and open.
PennDOT noted that inbound drivers will need to observe the speed limit for gates to operate properly and in sync with their movement. Otherwise, the gates will remain closed and drivers will have to slow down and queue up within a few feet to activate them.
The lanes are separated from regular interstate traffic by concrete barriers and contain independent traffic-control devices.
A special report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in August 2004 showed total HOV traffic in both directions had declined to 3,861 vehicles on an average weekday, a drop of 20 percent from a 1992 peak. Yesterday, PennDOT said the decline has continued, with average weekday traffic down another 10 percent, to 3,479 vehicles a day.
The HOV lanes in the median of I-279 and I-579 extend 4.1 miles between the city and the North Hills (5.3 miles including connecting ramps). They are the only exclusive, PennDOT-owned HOV facility in the state.
Built in the 1980s as part of the $550 million, 12-mile Parkway North to I-79 in Franklin Park, the lanes were designed to handle 7,200 vehicles in each direction, or 14,400 car and van pools a day. The HOV also serves as a busway for dozens of Port Authority buses, enabling about 3,200 riders a day to enjoy faster trips to and from the city.
The 1995 accident that closed the HOV for a while and precipitated several safety upgrades happened before noon on a Friday, when six people going to lunch became confused and got on the HOV lanes in the outbound direction while they were opened for inbound-only traffic. The driver got as far as St. Boniface Church when her car and an inbound pickup truck collided. Five of the six people in the car died, along with a passenger in the pickup.
A PennDOT worker, who was found to have cocaine in his system, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment after it was determined that he opened northbound and southbound gates to the HOV lanes at the same time.
The HOV lanes are open inbound from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays and outbound from 4 to 7 p.m. They're also opened -- outbound only -- to anyone after 7 p.m. Friday through 5 a.m. Monday, as a getaway for many who attend Downtown events.
Joe Grata can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1985.