On the one hand, the Parkway East is so popular that it attracts way more traffic than it was designed to carry.
On the other, it is so unpopular that 76 percent of survey respondents rated peak-hour traffic flow as "poor" and nearly the same number said they use alternate routes to avoid parkway jams.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is in the early stages of plotting improvements to safety and flow, and it hosted a public meeting Monday night to share what it has learned so far from drivers and its own research.
"This project is not just a study. PennDOT is committed to making real improvements in this corridor," said a display at the Monroeville session that drew about 50 attendees.
In the survey, 24 percent of respondents selected interchange improvements as the most-needed item; 19 percent said tunnel improvements; 16 percent said more public transit.
Dan Cessna, PennDOT district executive, told the audience that feedback from drivers and data collected by the department's consultants would be analyzed to develop a menu of improvements.
PennDOT will invest an initial $5 million on one project or a "very small number of projects" in the shorter term, with the top priority being improved safety, Mr. Cessna said.
As for other changes, "we don't have any preconceived notions," he said in an interview. "There would have to be broad-based support for whatever we move forward with."
Some respondents suggested adding HOV lanes, widening the Squirrel Hill Tunnels or building a tunnel bypass. Changes of that scale are not likely, Mr. Cessna said. "A major capital investment to completely change the Parkway East is not in the cards."
Placing signals on ramps, or closing some ramps during peak hours, drew both support and opposition in the survey, he said.
PennDOT backed away from a $5 million plan for ramp metering and restrictions in 2012 after public outcry.
PennDOT analyzed crash data; measured traffic on the parkway and 56 intersections in the corridor; and monitored where people began and ended trips, collecting data from vehicle GPS equipment.
Some of what it learned:
* Forty-one percent of traffic originated from the Pennsylvania Turnpike or other points east of the parkway; 40 percent started from the inner suburbs; and 19 percent from Monroeville and Penn Hills.
* Trucks made up just 3 percent of peak-hour traffic.
* Much of the inbound traffic was headed for places not along the parkway. Twenty-eight percent of it went to the Fort Pitt Bridge; 11 percent to the Fort Duquesne Bridge; and 5 percent to the Veterans Bridge. Twenty-seven percent went into Downtown; 19 percent exited in Oakland.
* Fifty-one percent of crashes from 2010 through 2012 were rear-end crashes. About a third involved vehicles striking fixed objects like walls or signs.
PennDOT's ability to make improvements was enhanced by the passage of state transportation funding legislation last year, Mr. Cessna said, but federal highway funding has been essentially unchanged for the past 20 years.
One attendee, John Gotaskie of Wilkins, whose commute takes him Downtown, said he often uses alternate routes "because of the disaster that is the Parkway East." He said he has heard many promises of improvements during his 20 years living here. "Zero has happened," he said.
"I think we'll find excellent options to improve safety," Mr. Cessna said. "We may not cut your commute time in half."
Before the meeting, Mr. Cessna said the Squirrel Hill Tunnels rehabilitation and repair project was on track for completion this summer despite difficult winter weather. Two more full weekend closures, one in each direction, are planned for later in the season, with dates not yet set.
Jon Schmitz: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at www.post-gazette.com/Roundabout. Twitter: @pgtraffic.
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