By the numbers: Seeking low-cost options to Parkway East tie-ups

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Well-placed opposition to ramp-metering that would have choked access to the Parkway East from communities closest to Downtown was enough to scuttle that plan two years ago. Now the state Department of Transportation is back at the drawing board.

This time, it is armed with survey results from drivers who use the busy highway, which planners and motorists alike hope will help to reduce congestion.

The best suggestions — adding lanes, widening the Squirrel Hill Tunnel or building a bypass — are not in the cards for the 14-mile stretch, at least not anytime soon, because of cost. Short of an investment that could run into the billions, what can PennDOT do with an initial budget of $5 million for short-term fixes?

It is starting with data on how drivers use the road. The survey found that 41 percent of the traffic starts at the Pennsylvania Turnpike or farther east, and the next most-popular entry points, 40 percent, were the inner suburbs.

The survey also showed that most parkway drivers aren’t going Downtown either, with 39 percent headed over either the Fort Pitt or Fort Duquesne bridges and 19 percent to Oakland.

That data should help PennDOT in formulating a new approach. The heavy use by inner-ring suburbanites explains why the earlier plan, which would have closed some of those ramps during peak times, was unpopular, but it doesn’t necessarily mean putting signals on some ramps might not work. Those surveyed were split on the topic.

Funding challenges and Pittsburgh’s geography limit what PennDOT can accomplish in the future. Given that nobody likes wasting time and gasoline, though, every little bit will help.

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