Roads unite to form new Interstate 376

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Parkway West to I-79 is now I-376, not I-279. I-279 now is the Parkway North only. Soon, Routes 22/30/60 also will become I-376. Got it?

Western Pennsylvania's rich history of contrarian conduct spans the centuries, from the Whiskey Rebellion to the placement of french fries on sandwiches and salads.

The latest example of defiance came yesterday with PennDOT's announcement that the Parkway West from Downtown to Interstate 79 would now be known as Interstate 376 rather than Interstate 279.

As almost no one knows, the new designation spits in the eye of the national interstate highway numbering system adopted by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

It says that three-digit extensions of major interstate highways should begin with an odd number if they are spurs into a city -- like I-376 was before yesterday -- and an even number if they go through or bypass a city.

So Interstate 276, 476, 676 or 876 would've been OK for this "new" highway that stretches from the suburban wilds of Monroeville past Pittsburgh to the verdant landscape of the I-79 interchange.

Dan Cessna, district executive for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, said the highway is being called I-376 because that was the designation mandated in the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act -- A Legacy for Users, passed by Congress in 2005 and known as SAFETEA-LU.

"That isn't necessarily in compliance with AASHTO criteria, but it was designated by law, which takes precedence," Mr. Cessna explained.

Not to mention SAFETEA-LU is a longer acronym than AASHTO.

The new designation, aside from the obvious benefit of further confusing motorists already beset with one of the more confounding urban road networks in the nation, is part of an effort to stimulate development.

Eventually, I-376 will continue past I-79, following the path of the current Routes 22, 30 and 60 and the Airport Expressway and Beaver Valley Expressway out to Mercer County.

The theory is that developers would rather locate factories and industrial parks along highways with attractive red-white-and-blue interstate shields than the bland black-and-white signs that adorn U.S. routes and state highways.

Another benefit is that it will eventually relieve Pittsburgh of its dubious distinction as the only major U.S. city whose airport is not served by an interstate highway.

That distinction has hurt the region's ability to attract new business, said U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless.

"The designation of I-376 is going to be a powerful economic development tool for Western Pennsylvania," said Mr. Altmire, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. "I-376 will help to create a seamless commercial corridor that will raise Western Pennsylvania's profile among national developers and help us attract new businesses and new jobs to our area."

For now, though, Interstate 376 ends at I-79 and the airport remains on state Route 60, an interstate-quality expressway except for the signs.

The designation of the rest of I-376 awaits completion of several interchange and road improvements along the corridor, estimated to cost $30 million to $40 million.

Many are projects that would've been done regardless of the renumbering, Mr. Cessna said.

PennDOT spokesman Jim Struzzi said the department has begun placing signs with the new number on the Parkway West, Parkway North and Parkway East and other routes that connect with them.

Exits on the Parkway West and Parkway North will be renumbered over the next few weeks, he said.

During that time, shoulders will be closed from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in various locations as the signs are installed. Additional shoulder closures will occur during off-peak hours over the next few months. No lane closures are anticipated at this time, Mr. Struzzi said.

For now, the I-279 signs will remain in place on the Parkway West alongside the new I-376 markers. But it isn't I-279 anymore -- that designation now belongs solely to the Parkway North, which, by virtue of yesterday's announcement, becomes a spur rather than a through highway, and thereby should start with an odd ...

Oh, never mind.


Jon Schmitz can be reached at jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868.


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