Work on Parkway West, Fort Pitt Tunnels coming

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With Squirrel Hill Tunnel rehabilitation to be completed this year, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation will turn its attention to the Parkway West and the Fort Pitt Tunnels, where three major projects are planned for this year and beyond.

Before the work begins, PennDOT has a big decision to make -- repair the ceilings of the tunnels at an estimated $4 million to $8 million or seek $15 million to $20 million to remove them altogether.

A sagging section of ceiling was discovered March 14, prompting emergency lane restrictions and an overnight closure of the inbound tunnel that backed traffic beyond Interstate 79 at times.

"We do want to assure people that we're routinely inspecting it and there are no safety hazards," said Dan Cessna, PennDOT district executive.

Because the ceiling would be removed during the next major tunnel rehabilitation in about 10 years, it might be more cost-effective to take it out now rather than spending millions for repairs, he said.

If funding becomes available, the removal would begin in September and cause eight weekend tunnel closures, four in each direction. The closures would be timed to avoid interfering with events at PNC Park and Heinz Field, Mr. Cessna said.

If the repair option is chosen, traffic impacts would be minimal, with overnight lane closures, he said. He expects a decision in about a month.

A ceiling is no longer needed for ventilation because of technological advances since the tunnels were opened in 1960, Mr. Cessna said.

In August, the department expects to begin work on a major improvement project on the Parkway West from I-79 to the tunnels. The decks of three bridges at Carnegie will be replaced, with two lanes of traffic maintained in both directions during peak hours and single-lane traffic possible overnight.

Much of the other work being done this year will be on the shoulders, causing overnight and weekend lane closures.

Next year, the estimated $50 million project will be in full throttle, with asphalt resurfacing of the entire six-mile section, including the shoulders, replacement of the concrete median with a taller barrier to reduce glare from the headlights of oncoming traffic, minor on- and off-ramp improvements, wall and slope repairs, and new signage.

Also next year, all four ramps at the Carnegie interchange will be closed long-term for reconstruction.

The overall project is likely to continue into 2016.

"There's a lot of work that needs to be done out there," Mr. Cessna said.

The project does not include major interchange improvements that PennDOT eventually hopes to make at Carnegie, Green Tree and Banksville Road, including an extension of the inbound on-ramp at Carnegie to the three-lane section of the parkway going up Green Tree Hill. Nor does it include a sound wall sought by residents of Green Tree.

"Those are not on the funding plan just yet," Mr. Cessna said. "We're still evaluating what year those projects will be funded."

Also starting this year will be a separate project to add a fourth lane to the outbound Parkway West between Rosslyn Farms and I-79. That will provide two lanes each for traffic continuing on the parkway and those exiting to I-79.

Jon Schmitz: or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at Twitter: @pgtraffic.

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