After decades of talk, planning and sustained aggravation, work to rebuild the notorious intersection of Route 51 and Route 88 in Overbrook will begin this year.
Drivers will have to deal with at least two years of construction that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation says will yield a much safer, less-congested corridor.
The intersection was built in 1929, was declared the region's worst bottleneck in 1964 and looks every bit its age, with rusted signs, rough pavement, antiquated signals and crumbling bridges and walls.
The key feature of the $17 million-to-$18 million project will be a two-lane "jug handle" that northbound Route 51 traffic will use to reach Route 88 and Glenbury Street. That traffic will exit right and loop around the Rite Aid pharmacy to pass through the intersection.
That will replace the short left-turn lane that often is overstacked with traffic, causing delays for northbound through traffic.
A northbound left-turn lane will be added on Route 51 at Stewart Avenue, south of the Route 88 intersection, and a second jug handle will be built for southbound traffic via Fairhaven Road and Stewart Avenue.
Southbound drivers on Route 51 who want to reach St. Norbert Church or the residential areas surrounding it will continue to the jug handle rather than turning left at Ivyglen Street. The jug handle will funnel them to the northbound side.
Four badly decayed bridges will be replaced and one new bridge constructed. Improvements will be made to stream flow but PennDOT does not expect the project to eliminate flash flooding that sometimes occurs there.
PennDOT expects to maintain two lanes of Route 51 traffic in both directions throughout the construction. Northbound Route 88 traffic may have to be detoured at times, said Cheryl Moon-Sirianni, assistant district executive for design. Short-term detours also are possible on Fairhaven Road and Stewart Avenue.
Major traffic backups are likely at the intersection, which even without construction is congested for several hours a day. PennDOT is planning to place traffic cameras along Route 51 from the Liberty Tunnels to Route 88 as part of the plan to ease disruptions.
A specific start date for the project has not been set. District Executive Dan Cessna said he expected work to begin in late June.
Over the years, PennDOT has considered more elaborate projects to reconfigure the intersection, including flyover ramps, but those ideas were deemed too costly and damaging to adjacent neighborhoods. The current project required acquisition of seven properties and parts of 25 others.