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Study: Traffic jams siphon $1B a year from Western Pa. drivers

Tom Fontaine
| Thursday, June 20, 2013, 12:06 a.m.
Congestion on Route 28 on Wednesday, June 19, 2013.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Congestion on Route 28 on Wednesday, June 19, 2013.
Congestion on Route 28 on Wednesday, June 19, 2013.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Congestion on Route 28 on Wednesday, June 19, 2013.
Congestion on Route 28 on Wednesday, June 19, 2013.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Congestion on Route 28 on Wednesday, June 19, 2013.

For Lisa Hoffman, time is money.

Hoffman owns West Liberty Clocks along bustling West Liberty Avenue, part of a corridor that a national research group says is Pittsburgh's most congested road. Hoffman says her 15-mile commute from Finleyville takes 35 to 40 minutes.

“Sometimes you're going to sit and wait a while. You kind of expect it,” said Hoffman, 54, adding that recent improvements — a center turning lane and repaving the road — are easing congestion.

In a study released on Thursday, TRIP, a Washington-based transportation research group, says congestion costs Pittsburgh-area motorists a combined $1 billion a year in lost time and wasted fuel.

“The strength of the region's economic growth is threatened by the failure to address the looming transportation funding crisis,” said Frank Moretti, TRIP's director of policy and research.

Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce President Barbara McNees said inaction costs more than taking action.

“(Pennsylvania) cannot afford the cost to its economy if raw materials can't get to factories, if people can't get to work, if goods can't get to market,” she said.

Moretti said extra money for transportation could help pay for a broad range of remedies, from beefing up transit service to improving the timing of traffic signals or adding turning lanes. An advisory commission Gov. Tom Corbett established in 2011 estimated the state needs to spend $552 million more a year on projects to reduce congestion.

Doing nothing is costly, Moretti said.

TRIP rated West Liberty Avenue/Crosstown Boulevard as the most the congested corridor, costing rush-hour commuters an extra $2,915 a year in wasted gas and lost productivity. Used by 33,000 motorists a day, it runs from Brookline Boulevard through the Liberty Tunnel and across the Liberty and Veterans bridges to the Hazlett Street exit in the North Side.

Moretti said congestion there could be reduced by coordinating the timing of traffic signals and increasing transit service.

Other congested stretches include the Parkway West between Robinson and the Fort Pitt Bridge, rated among the nation's worst in previous studies; the Fifth and Forbes Avenue corridor between Downtown and Oakland; and Route 228/Freedom Road in the Cranberry area.

“We like traffic. It generates customers,” said Tom Cross, founder and manager of Freedom Square Diner in Cranberry.

Cross, 53, disputed the ranking of Route 228/Freedom Road, which carries 23,000 vehicles a day. Although Cranberry experienced explosive growth in the past 10 to 15 years, Cross said, “You ever go through the Squirrel Hill Tunnel or sit on Green Tree Hill (on the Parkway West)? They're a lot worse. (Route) 228 doesn't come close.”

Ranked fifth through ninth on TRIP's list: Route 51 from the Parkway West to Lewis Runs Road in Pleasant Hills; the Parkway East from the Fort Pitt Bridge to the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Monroeville; Banksville Road/Beverly Road from the Parkway West to Cochran Road in Mt. Lebanon; Penn Avenue from the Parkway East to Negley Avenue in East Liberty; and Route 28 from I-279 to the Etna exit.

State leaders are weighing proposals to boost transportation funding. Corbett proposed increasing transportation funding by up to $1.8 billion a year; the Senate this month passed a bill to raise an extra $2.5 billion annually.

Eric Bugaile, executive director of the House Transportation Committee, said the committee will take up the issue next week. Transportation Chairman Dick Hess, R-Bedford, has said the House version could fall between Corbett's and the Senate's plans.

One source of money from the Senate plan that Hess doesn't intend to keep in the House version: a $100 surcharge on traffic tickets, which could generate an estimated $75.5 million to $100.5 million for transit.

McNees opposes scaling back the Senate plan.

“We were caught off-guard by the breadth of opposition to the (surcharge) proposal. We had regarded it as something akin to an automotive ‘sin tax.' A motorist who did not want to pay could, through his own actions, ensure that he did not have to,” McNees said.

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

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