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Fitzgerald wants another tunnel to aid Parkway West traffic

| Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald says building another tunnel through Mt. Washington could reduce traffic jams on the Parkway West, one of the nation's most congested highways, but the price tag could be big, experts warn.

“I don't think it's anything that would be built in the next year or two, but we need to figure out a way to ease the traffic congestion in that corridor. As a long-term planning issue, it's critical,” Fitzgerald said Tuesday.

Fitzgerald — who suggested the tunnel idea at separate forums sponsored by the Community College of Allegheny County and Urban Land Institute — pointed to accelerating development around Pittsburgh International Airport and in the Robinson and North Fayette areas. About 100,000 motorists a day use the highway.

“We need to find a way to better connect those (developing) areas and Downtown,” Fitzgerald said.

Kent Harries, associate professor of structural engineering and mechanics at the University of Pittsburgh, expressed concerns about a plan he predicted could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

“You would have a number of serious impacts,” Harries said, noting such a project would require improvements on the Fort Pitt Bridge on one side of the tunnel and the notoriously congested Parkway West section known as Green Tree Hill on the other side to prevent “simply moving the bottleneck.”

It could be cheaper and more effective to ease congestion by looking for ways to reduce demand instead of meet it, Harries said. Possibilities could include so-called congestion pricing — imposing tolls during peak traffic periods — or improving alternate routes to make them more attractive to motorists. Some cities have removed parking spaces and increased transit options into particularly congested areas to reduce traffic.

Traffic data provider INRIX released a study in May that rated a three-mile section of the Parkway West as the nation's eighth-most-congested road — the worst outside Los Angeles or New York.

PennDOT spent $1 million to study ways to ease congestion. It plans to spend up to $60 million on improvements along the Parkway West including pavement and bridge repairs, but officials said there isn't money to make significant changes at three interchanges that could improve traffic flow.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847.

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