PennDOT to ease the squeeze on outbound Route 28
The Route 28 northbound lane closure that's clogged outbound Pittsburgh traffic for years will be lifted this month, according to PennDOT spokesman Steve Cowan.
The lane should open around Sept. 16, he said, months before construction crews were projected to finish repairing the roadway between the North Side and 31st Street Bridge. It will be the first time since 2009 that all four lanes are open simultaneously.
Connie Parker, PennDOT customer relations coordinator, said about 60,000 vehicles cross that stretch of road daily. The opening, she said, could take as much as 20 minutes off Alle-Kiski Valley residents' commute from the city.
“It's going to reduce northbound traffic considerably,” she said, “but it's still a work zone and we're encouraging motorists to drive carefully.”
Route 28 will remain a work zone through late 2014, Cowan said. The decongestion is merely a 14-week reprieve from heavy traffic as PennDOT shifts from the fourth to final phase of its $120 million dollar project. The five-year project began in September 2009 to turn Route 28 into a free-flowing artery with access ramps and no traffic lights from Pittsburgh to Kittanning.
The fourth phase, which includes the soon-to-be-finished northbound lane closure, will run through the end of the year, Cowan said. No detours or lane closures are scheduled for construction crews to finish connecting the expressway with Rialto Street and the 31st Street Bridge during that time.
The fifth phase is expected to begin shortly after and includes another significant northbound lane closure.
Beginning in January, the closure will funnel outbound motorists into the right northbound lane from East Ohio Street to the 31st Street Bridge. It will make way for construction crews to repave, mill and build concrete walls along the expressway. That work is expected to run through late 2014, according to Cowan.
“We don't have an exact outside date of completion on that,” he said. “But everything has run smoothly so far, and we don't anticipate any issues. We just ask that everyone remains patient as the project comes to a close.”
For long-time Route 28 commuters like Phil Larrow of New Kensington, patience has become a necessary virtue.
The technician has taken the expressway almost daily over the past 26 years to and from his South Side job. He said he supports what PennDOT is trying to accomplish but is frustrated with the slow rate of completion.
“I've just been doing it for so long that you really stop paying attention to what they're saying and just deal with it,” he said. “I like that the northbound lanes are going to open up, but it's probably going to make things worse farther north by the Highland Park Bridge.
“There's going to be vehicles from three lanes up there now all trying to merge into one.”
That jaded attitude toward Route 28 isn't unique to Larrow.
Tim Campbell, a licensed practical nurse who works in Bridgeville, is in the process of moving to Hampton from his home in Arnold. At his new house, Campbell will take Interstate 79 instead of Route 28 on his daily commute. He says it's an appreciated amenity of his new Allegheny County location.
“We moved because my wife got a new job near there, but it definitely helps me out, too,” he said. “I'm sick of (Route) 28 and, by the time they begin road work again, I'll be living in Hampton. I'm definitely going to enjoy the two lanes being open in the meantime, though.”
Like Larrow, David Surma of Lower Burrell has used Route 28 almost daily for a quarter of a century. He said he often avoids heavy traffic from the lane closure up to the 31st Street Bridge with back roads through Troy Hill.
He, too, is looking forward to using Route 28 for the 3½ months that all lanes will be open this year.
“I'm going to enjoy it while I can,” he said. “Maybe we'll throw a party at my house.”
Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.