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'Single worst' intersection at Brownsville, Broughton Roads gets $8.9 million makeover

| Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Randy Jarosz | For The South Hills Record
A realignment of the Brownsville/Broughton intersection has been in the works for years. In 1976, the intersection was deemed the “single worst intersection for green cycle time” of all intersections studied by the Allegheny County Department of Planning that year, meaning there was heavy congestion at the intersection.

Just as Jason Trent was about to open a homemade pretzel shop near the Brownsville/Broughton roads intersection, the orange barriers began to move — shifting traffic even farther away from the window-front shop he had turned into his dream business.

“If you didn't look, you wouldn't see (the shop) and even if you did look, it looked like we were closed,” said Trent, 33, of South Park, who opened the Pittsburgh Pretzel Cafe in July 2012 amidst an Allegheny County construction project to revamp the intersection.

“There were days that I'd come in and there would be a steamroller right in front of the shop.”

Fast forward to today. The orange cones and construction vehicles that became a staple at the intersection for nearly two and a half years are gone and have been replaced with new traffic patterns, red lights, grassy areas and sidewalks. The $8.9 million project is in its final stages, with only a checklist of items left to be completed, said Jeanna Fisher, project manager with the Allegheny County engineering division.

“It's definitely an improvement,” Trent said of the changes made to the intersection.

A realignment of the Brownsville/Broughton intersection has long been in the works.

In 1976, the intersection was deemed the “single worst intersection for green-cycle time” of all intersections studied by the Allegheny County Department of Planning that year, meaning there was heavy congestion at the intersection, said Steven Smallhoover, design project manager.

Planning for the realignment with the goal of improving traffic flow and reducing accidents at the intersection began in the 1980s. The intersection — in portions of South Park Township, Baldwin Borough and Pleasant Hills — was divided into three subgroups: the main Brownsville/Broughton intersection, Brownsville at Fifth and Sixth streets and Brownsville at Philippe Drive.

“Each had its own issues,” Smallhoover said.

There were capacity issues, but there also were safety issues — such as repeated “Good Samaritan accidents” in which a driver letting another vehicle go would lead to an accident in another lane at the intersections — that needed to be addressed, Smallhoover said.

Designs were drafted and presented to the public in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Plans included roadway reconstruction and widening, bituminous paving, reconstruction and extension of a concrete arch culvert, as well as improvements to drainage, curbs, sidewalks and new traffic signals.

Finding funding for the project became the problem, as other road improvements in the region took the forefront. “It ended up being a back burner project,” said Smallhoover, who has been working on this project for more than 29 years. “Nobody ever doubted there was an absolute need for this project.”

Six years ago, the final design process was started, Smallhoover said. Most of the original concepts remained.

Construction on the intersection began about two and a half years ago. There were 27 full or partial property takeovers.

Keeping one lane of traffic open during construction was important, Smallhoover said. About 35,000 vehicles travel on Brownsville Road over Lick Run a day.

One of the features of the design separated the Brownsville/Broughton intersection from the Broughton/Horning roads intersection — to give traffic more time to get through the intersections, Smallhoover said.

The project also includes an addition to the Lick Run Bridge and a small rain garden, Fisher said.

This project was completed amidst two other construction projects on the road — both being completed by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation — one a bridge replacement project on Curry Hollow Road in Pleasant Hills, the other an intersection improvement project at Broughton and Baptist roads in Bethel Park.

Working in the center of that helped to alleviate traffic at their construction site, Fisher said.

Yet, for those such as Trent, having all three construction projects at once have made it even harder for business.

“We would get calls — a lot of them like this — where the first thing they'd say was, ‘Hey, is the construction done yet?' We'd say, ‘No,' and they'd say, ‘OK. We'll wait until it's done to come in,'” he said.

Still, the Baldwin Borough-based business survived its first year.

Trent credits that to word-of-mouth promotions and a Facebook group he started months before he opened the Pittsburgh Pretzel Cafe.

The homemade chicken-salad sandwiches on a warm, freshly baked pretzel have their fans. Regular customers visit the shop often, Trent said. But there's still an issue with consistency that Trent said he credits to all three construction projects nearby.

But at least there are no big orange cones in front of his shop anymore.

“It doesn't look like a nightmare out front,” Trent said.

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

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