West Liberty Ave. remake should make it much safer

But businesses will likely be disrupted

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One of the region's most dangerous roads, West Liberty Avenue, will get a remake that Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials say will make it much safer.

But the $7 million project will bring two years of hardship to motorists and businesses, including the many car dealerships that line the street.

"It's going to be a major challenge for us and every business owner," said Mark Podrosky, general manager of Rohrich Toyota. "We welcome the renovations, but nobody is going to be happy with the disruption."

The road will be resurfaced and restriped in two phases. The first will extend from McFarland Road in Dormont to the intersection with Wenzell Avenue and Brookline Boulevard. Work will start in July.

The contractor will strip off the old asphalt, make any needed repairs to the concrete base and lay a new asphalt surface, project manager Andrea Nash told residents and business people at a community meeting in Dormont last week.

Broken curbs will be fixed and traffic and pedestrian signals updated. The road will be restriped with four lanes, but parking will still be permitted in the curb lanes during nonpeak hours. Traffic signals will be retimed to improve flow.

Most of the milling and repaving will be done at night, but lane restrictions also will be possible from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays and throughout weekends, said Jim Foringer, PennDOT assistant district executive for construction.

The second phase of work, from Wenzell to the Port Authority's South Busway, won't start until early spring 2011 because gas lines are being replaced this year, said Joseph Wieseckel, PennDOT constructability review manager.

That work will be more complicated and troublesome.

PennDOT plans to excavate a 22-foot-wide strip in the center of the road to remove old streetcar rails that are buried beneath the pavement. It will put concrete barriers on both sides of the excavation, reducing traffic to one lane each way.

That will be a major inconvenience to automobile dealers, many of which have buildings on both sides of the street. Rohrich Toyota's showroom is on one side and the lot with preowned vehicles, SUVs and trucks is on the other, Mr. Podrosky said.

Customers and salespeople will have to walk long distances to intersections to get around the barriers, he said. "For customers, it's a terrible inconvenience."

Car carriers, which typically unload at curbside, will be unable to enter the construction zone. They will have to unload elsewhere and the dealership will drive the cars in.

By fall of 2011, the end result north of Wenzell will be a resurfaced road with five lanes -- two travel lanes in each direction and a continuous center lane for left turns by cars going in both directions. Left-turn arrows will be added at five intersections.

That will eliminate the problem of thru traffic stacking up behind cars waiting to turn left, and darting to the right to get around them, Ms. Nash said. "That's one of our major safety improvements through this corridor."

Another is the striping of four travel lanes.

At present, the road is striped for two-lane traffic but wide enough to accommodate four. With no left-turn arrows, and with parked cars sporadically creating obstructions along the curb, motorists weave back and forth in an anarchy that causes crashes.

The new lanes will be 10 feet wide, which, one resident noted, is on the narrow side.

"If you pay attention and drive the speed limit," Mr. Foringer replied with a smile, "a 10-foot lane will be sufficient."

Parking also will continue to be permitted in the curb lanes north of Wenzell during nonpeak hours, officials said.

Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. Visit "The Roundabout," the Post-Gazette's transportation blog, at post-gazette.com.


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