PennDOT to remove ceiling from Fort Pitt Tunnels later this year

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A $21 million project to remove the deteriorated ceilings in the Fort Pitt Tunnels has been funded and may begin in November.

Dan Cessna, district executive for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, said the project will cause several weekend closures in one direction or the other, with the schedule influenced by the timing of major events like Steelers home games.

The current plan is for four full weekend closures in both directions (one direction at a time) but that may be broken into shorter-term closures, he said Thursday.

"We can't say how much we'll get done this year and how much will carry over to next year," Mr. Cessna said.

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.

PennDOT faced a choice of making stopgap repairs that would keep the ceiling in place until the next major tunnel renovation in about 10 years or removing the ceiling altogether. A ceiling is no longer needed for ventilation because of technological advances since the tunnels were opened in 1960, Mr. Cessna said.

The outbound tunnel was closed for six minutes during the morning rush hour on Thursday. Plywood installed over a test hole that was drilled in the ceiling appeared to be unstable, and a tunnel worker was worried it would fall. Traffic was restored shortly after 7:30 a.m.

Crews are routinely inspecting the ceiling. "If we sense any safety issue anywhere, that trumps inconvenience," Mr. Cessna said.

Jon Schmitz: or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at Twitter: @pgtraffic. First Published May 15, 2014 2:37 PM

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