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Partial reopening of Liberty Tunnel may offer detour relief in Mt. Washington

Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Traffic backs up on Merrimac Street in Mt. Washington while the road is being used as detour, Thursday. Neighbors complain that the heavy traffic is causing a disruption on the street.

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By Bobby Kerlik
Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013, 10:10 p.m.

From his front door along Merrimac Street in Mt. Washington, Ryan Bailey can see a traffic nightmare.

A detour around work on the Liberty Tunnel directs some of Pittsburgh's commuters to within 10 feet of his porch.

“Rush hour is the worst. You try and park — in front of your own house — and everyone is beeping at you,” said Bailey, 23, who lives with his girlfriend on Merrimac. “And all the noise, even with the air conditioner on, you can hear it.”

Neighbors might get a reprieve from the congestion on Monday. The outbound tunnel lanes are scheduled to reopen during the day and close from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., but the inbound tube is set to close Wednesday until Aug. 30.

Both outbound lanes closed for repairs on July 26, and PennDOT routed the traffic headed for the South Hills up McArdle Roadway and down Merrimac to Route 51.

Neighbors parked cars on the sidewalk as a precaution to prevent their sideview mirrors from being knocked off.

“Trying to back out of my driveway is a problem,” Paula Berardelli, 21, said as a flatbed tractor-trailer rumbled past. “It's most of the day. Every time I back out, I might get my back-end taken off. People are beeping and swerving. They're doing 60 mph like they're in the tunnels.”

PennDOT's inbound detour will route motorists to Route 51, onto the Interstate 376 West ramp toward Banksville Road and through the Fort Pitt Tunnel.

Residents fear many drivers will cut through Mt. Washington, anyway.

“PennDOT attempts to use state roadways for detour routes. However, in some instances, this is just not feasible,” PennDOT spokesman Steve Cowan said. “For the Liberty Tunnel detour we encourage motorists to use the parkway and West End Bridge. The problem is if a motorist gets to the Liberty Bridge, there is no opportunity to turn them around.”

The $18.8 million tunnel project includes repairing concrete, updating and repairing of electrical, lighting and safety systems and other improvements. About 45,000 vehicles use it on an average day. The 5,889-foot-long tunnel was built in 1924.

Sporadic weekend closures of the Squirrel Hill Tunnel over the past year routes heavy Parkway East traffic onto neighborhood streets, including Beechwood Boulevard. That tunnel is undergoing a $49.5 million improvement project, including replacement of concrete slabs and ventilation testing.

“The traffic is terrible. People will just not let you out (of a driveway),” said Howard Reck, 47, who lives along Beechwood. “I have to stand in the middle of the street so my wife can get out of the driveway with the kids.”

Bobby Kerlik is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7886 or

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