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PennDOT rethinks Liberty Tunnel detour amid traffic snarls

Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Traffic backs up on 51 due to the closure of the inbound Liberty tunnel, Thursday.

Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, 11:46 p.m.
 

PennDOT officials are reassessing a detour that snarled the morning commute on Thursday, the first day of closed inbound lanes of the Liberty Tunnel.

The detour pushed motorists to the Fort Pitt Tunnel, via northbound Route 51 and the ramps for Banksville Road, to loop around to inbound Interstate 376. That jammed the parkway for several miles, and an area of weaving, merging traffic at Banksville that backs up even without additional vehicles.

Motorists who worked their way around the situation still reported heavier-than-usual traffic.

About 16,500 vehicles use the inbound Liberty Tunnel on an average day. The outbound lanes close from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The inbound closure lasts around the clock through Aug. 30.

“Our staff is looking at the situation to determine if there is anything we can do to alleviate some of the delays,” said PennDOT District 11 spokesman Steve Cowan. “We encourage motorists who are familiar with the area to use alternate routes around the (Fort Pitt) tunnel.”

The Liberty Tunnel's inbound lanes closed at 10 p.m. Wednesday to enable contractors to reconstruct the portal and a wall near the ventilation shaft inside the tunnel.

Ed Bowen, a clerk at West Liberty Beer and Tobacco, said morning rush-hour backups extended past his shop up West Liberty Avenue.

The beer distributor's delivery drivers reported early for work, but the backups still affected them, he said.

“Our guys are still out, and they should have been back about an hour ago,” Bowen said shortly after noon.

Starting on Monday, the intersection near the Liberty Tunnel will temporarily allow two lanes to turn left off inbound West Liberty Avenue onto northbound Route 51, instead of forcing detoured traffic to a single lane, Cowan said.

Pioneer Avenue will have two inbound lanes open, and police will control traffic lights at the tunnel and the intersection of Route 51 and Warrington Avenue.

Traffic on Banksville Road also backed up worse than usual as a result of the detoured vehicles, drivers said.

“I didn't have to go more than a block, and it took more than 10 minutes,” said Joe Szpara of Carnegie, who uses the road as part of his commute to the Atlas Transmissions store he owns on West Liberty Avenue. He planned to try another route through Mt. Lebanon on Friday.

Work on the $18.8 million phase of the Liberty Tunnel rehabilitation is scheduled for completion this fall. More work will be needed, though it is not funded or scheduled, Cowan said.

Matthew Santoni is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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