Initial work begins to upgrade 51/88 intersection

| Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

The thought of detours, delays and restrictions during the next two years along a major South Hills thoroughfare — needed to allow for a complete overhaul of the state Route 51 / 88 intersection — is greeted by many with guarded optimism.

“There almost seems to be a willingness to have this project done. It's a short-term inconvenience for a long-term gain,” said Greg Jones, executive director of Economic Development South, a nonprofit organization working to bolster development in the boroughs of Baldwin, Brentwood, Whitehall and the Pittsburgh neighborhoods of Carrick and Overbrook.

A project decades in the works to rehab the Route 51/88 intersection kicked off this week, as Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania began to replace pipes along nearby city streets to make way for the larger part of the project, set to begin this summer.

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation District 11 plans to begin work at the intersection this June, with a project that will improve traffic flow and replace six structurally deficient bridges along the corridor, said PennDOT construction engineer Heath Butler. The project has been advertised and bids likely will be sought at the end of April.

“This has been an ongoing project for decades. It's really evolved over the years,” Butler said.

“We've been waiting for years for them to do something,” said Judy Brizek, 58, of Carrick, who lives just a street away from the intersection and drives through it daily. “I know it will probably mean a year and a half to two years of added traffic, but it's all good if it's going to end up where traffic will flow.”

The estimated $17 to $20 million project includes plans for a “jug handle,” or ramp-like structure, to eliminate left turns from Route 51 onto Route 88. The jug handle will be built on the northbound side of Route 51, behind the Rite Aid Pharmacy and intersecting with Route 51, where Ivyglen Street now is. Traffic improvements also will be made at the intersection of Stewart Avenue and Route 51.

The project will include the demolition of nearly 20 structures near the intersection, Butler said. This required seven property acquisitions and 25 partial or temporary acquisitions, said PennDOT spokesman Jim Struzzi.

After demolitions and preparation work is complete, the first phase of the project will be to construct the jug handle, which likely will run from September through next April, Butler said. Most of that work will not require restrictions on the state routes.

During the project, two lanes will remain open on Route 51 in both directions during peak hours, Butler said.

“In the South Hills, it's a main artery. It's the road that connects us to nearly everywhere. Route 51 is our main artery to the city,” he said.

Starting with Columbia Gas' $6 million pipeline replacement work, a myriad of utility companies will move pipes, lines and wires near the site, Butler said.

“Every utility you can think of is pretty much involved in the project,” he said.

Columbia Gas will replace approximately 2,400 feet of existing steel pipe along the Route 51 corridor for its portion of the project, set to be complete in September, spokeswoman Brynnly Mazzie said.

The pipeline-improvement project will involve state Route 51, Fairhaven Street, Provost Road, Ivyglen Street, Underwood Street and Stewart Avenue. Work will take place Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., with possible Saturday work. No restrictions are expected on Route 51 at this time.

Fairhaven Street, closed to traffic Monday, will remain shut for about six weeks, Mazzie said.

Columbia Gas' work will require a temporary interruption of natural gas service for individual customers while their service is connected to the new gas main. The company will contact customers prior to temporarily interrupting service and to schedule service restoration.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or

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