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Drivers get signals crossed by Routes 51, 88 intersection work

| Wednesday, July 16, 2014, 9:04 p.m.
Stephanie Hacke | South Hills Record
Drivers traveling northbound on Route 51 were rerouted to a newly constructed “jug handle” to loop around the intersection as crews work to replace five bridges under the northbound lanes of Route 51. Some commuters said the changes have added to the congestion in the area.
Randy Jarosz | For the South Hills Record
Drivers traveling northbound on Route 51 were rerouted to a newly constructed “jug handle” to loop around the intersection as crews work to replace five bridges under the northbound lanes of Route 51. Some commuters said the changes have added to the congestion in the area.
Randy Jarosz | For the South Hills Record
Drivers traveling northbound on Route 51 were rerouted to a newly constructed “jug handle” to loop around the intersection as crews work to replace five bridges under the northbound lanes of Route 51. Some commuters said the changes have added to the congestion in the area.

Temporary changes to traffic patterns at the Route 51/Route 88 intersection left some drivers confused this week as PennDOT engineers re-evaluate the plan.

Drivers traveling northbound on Route 51 were rerouted to a newly constructed “jug handle,” or ramp-like structure, to loop around the intersection as crews work to replace five bridges under the northbound lanes of Route 51, spokesman Steve Cowan said. So far, the changes are set to remain in place at least through the end of 2014.

Some commuters said the changes have added to the congestion of northbound traffic on Route 88 headed toward the Route 51 intersection in the Overbrook/Whitehall area.

“It's horrible,” said Susan Seibel, 60, of Pittsburgh's Overbrook neighborhood, whose five-minute drive to her daughter's home on Overbrook Boulevard now takes 20 minutes and requires many turnarounds.

Seibel said she's witnessed drivers “screaming and yelling” at each other since the traffic pattern changes, as many don't seem to know where they're supposed to go.

“There's very much frustration,” said Seibel, who frequents the Rite Aid at the intersection and now has a hard time getting there.

Paul Deiseroth, 44, of Overbrook, said he wants PennDOT to change the temporary design.

“It's like a figure-8 race,” said Deiseroth, who lives on the hill above the intersection and now finds himself making several turns, including using the Goodwill parking lot in Whitehall as a turnaround, to head northbound or navigate Route 51.

Cars still can use Ivyglen to access Route 51 and Route 88, but engineers are reviewing that, Cowan said. They also are looking at the timing of the traffic lights at the intersection.

Vehicles frequently could be seen Tuesday pulling off of Ivyglen and darting across two lanes of Route 51 traffic to head southbound onto Route 88.

“We're looking at it from a safety standpoint,” Cowan said. “We want to make sure that no one is putting themselves or other individuals in an unsafe situation.”

Southbound traffic on Route 51 will remain in its current configuration, with two lanes open at all peak hours, Cowan said.

The $19 million Route 51/Route 88 improvement project will replace five bridges, construct a new bridge, upgrade signals, lighting and sidewalks and also improve drainage. Approximately 42,000 vehicles use Route 51 every day. The project, which began in August 2013, is behind schedule because of utility work and now is set for completion at the end of 2016, Cowan said.

As part of the project, Stewart Avenue remains closed, and there is no date set for its reopening, Cowan said.

South Hills residents said they understand the work is needed, but it has been a challenge to keep the end result in mind.

“I'm not one of those guys who's opposed to change,” Deiseroth said. “I just think the temporary stuff here wasn't well planned.”

Seibel said she worries about the final product.

“I'm not seeing the big picture at all,” she said. “Hopefully, it will work out, but I'm not putting money down on it.”

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

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