Pittsburgh's Parkway West most congested stretch outside NY, LA
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This will be no surprise to the hardened souls who inch toward downtown Pittsburgh each day on the Parkway West: A new report calls the section from Green Tree to the Fort Pitt Tunnels the most congested in America outside of New York and Los Angeles.
INRIX, an international company that uses GPS technology to track and analyze the movements of millions of vehicles on 300,000 miles of roadway, rated the Parkway West during the morning rush as the ninth-worst traffic corridor in the U.S. The top eight spots went to highways in the Big Apple and City of Angels.
According to INRIX, it takes an average of 13 minutes -- nine more than it should -- to traverse that stretch. That doesn't count the time it takes to get there, as morning backups now routinely spill well down the back side of Green Tree Hill and sometimes past Carnegie.
At a delay of nine minutes a day, for a regular commuter that works out to about 36 hours a year down the rat hole, just for the morning rush. According to INRIX, drivers on the 10 worst U.S. corridors may squander up to 60 hours a year stuck in traffic.
Those who while away their mornings in the daily tangle might be inclined to dream of a wider Parkway West or new tunnels drilled through Mount Washington, but financial and topographic realities make that a bit like yearning for world peace.
Asked about whether a "mega project" could remedy the situation, Dan Cessna, district executive for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, said, "In our currently constrained financial situation, no. It's that simple. There's no place in the current funding program or the long-range plan that looks at any significant changes to the Parkway West."
PennDOT is, however, studying whether more modest changes and improvements to the parkway interchanges between Interstate 79 and the Fort Pitt Tunnels could ease things a bit, and make the ride safer at those times when traffic is actually moving.
One of those interchanges, Banksville Road, is a clear culprit in the parkway jams. The "weave condition," with incoming Banksville traffic merging left across the four lanes and some parkway drivers moving right to exit via the West End or Uniontown ramps, "severely impacts traffic flow," Mr. Cessna said.
To improve that condition, "what you would likely do is eliminate options," he said. Nothing specific is planned for now, and the study, by Michael Baker Corp., will take another four to six months. It also will look at safety and flow improvements at Green Tree and Carnegie, both of which have short acceleration lanes.
Mr. Cessna said PennDOT has about $50 million programmed for the Parkway West and plenty of things to spend it on. The highway hasn't been repaved since 2004 and the department plans to resurface it in 2014. The crumbling center concrete barrier needs to be replaced. More bridge repairs are needed.
"The shoulders are also blowing up on us. That's 30-year-old concrete," he said.
After those priorities are addressed, he expects PennDOT to be able to make enhancements at one or more of the interchanges.
"We are going to be making some improvements to the Parkway West. They will certainly have an impact on safety. We hope to make some improvements to traffic flow," Mr. Cessna said. "I don't want anybody walking away with the impression that we're going to solve everything."
Meanwhile, the short-term prospects aren't promising. If the Port Authority's planned September service reductions go into effect, dozens of bus trips serving the corridor will be eliminated. Just on routes that are being abolished (rather than reduced), more than 60 morning rush hour trips would be cut.
Two segments of the Parkway East also made INRIX's list of America's most congested highway corridors. The inbound side from Business Route 22 to the Squirrel Hill Tunnels was rated 20th-worst for its morning backups; the outbound side from Downtown to Business Route 22 was 37th-worst for its evening jams.
The 2011 Inrix Traffic Scorecard reported a 30 percent reduction in traffic congestion nationwide and said congestion decreased in 70 of the top 100 U.S. cities, attributing that to a scarcity of jobs and higher fuel prices.
Overall, Pittsburgh was 27th in the nation for congestion. The worst metro area was Honolulu, followed by Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York.
First Published May 23, 2012 12:00 am