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Route 28 traffic clogs might end soon

| Sunday, Aug. 18, 2013, 11:27 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Traffic along Route 28 northbound in Pittsburgh on Friday, Aug. 16, 2013, during rush hour.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Traffic along Route 28 North on Friday afternoon during rush hour.

Heavy traffic from the Route 28 reconstruction that has clogged the expressway for nearly four years might come to an early end.

PennDOT did not expect two-lane traffic to resume on the outbound stretch between the North Side and the 31st Street Bridge until autumn of 2014, but crews are ahead of schedule and hope to open a second lane by the end of this year.

“We can't say for sure when the work there will be completed,” said PennDOT spokesman Steve Cowan. “There's still a lot that needs to be done to get those lanes under the bridge, but we're pretty well ahead of schedule, and work is progressing.”

The $120 million project started in 2009 to allow traffic on the expressway to travel from Pittsburgh to Kittanning without encountering a stoplight.

Tim Campbell of Arnold said the extra lane cannot open fast enough. The licensed practical nurse said it takes him up to 20 minutes to drive a mile through the Route 28 work zone on the outbound commute from his Bridgeville job in the afternoon. Sometimes he circumvents the traffic with back roads through Troy Hill and enters Route 28 in Millvale where it opens to two northbound lanes.

Should the second lane reopen, it would put him back on Route 28 for good.

“That would be amazing,” he said. “I can't even imagine how good that extra 15 or 20 minutes off my commute would feel.”

Southbound travelers on Route 28 last week got a taste of post-reconstruction life when PennDOT removed a split in the road that had slowed traffic since mid-May approaching the 31st Street Bridge.

On most mornings, vehicles were forced into two concrete chutes where speeds rarely surpassed 20 mph.

Brad Martin, 33, an Equitable Gas operations specialist from New Kensington, said the split's removal eased the headache he got from traveling to the West End.

“It only takes about five or 10 minutes off the trip,” he said, “but the traffic flows so much better. It's definitely a better way to start the morning.”

Cowan said the reconstruction comprises the fourth phase of the PennDOT project.

Although the major closures and detours are projected to dissipate by New Year's Day, motorists might face some obstacles through 2014 as crews complete the final phase. Cowan could not estimate when the sporadic repaving, milling and painting of that phase would finish.

Some motorists who frequently use Route 28 yield a more pessimistic view of the expressway's future.

With 25 years of twice-daily trips on the expressway, David Surma, 50, of Lower Burrell believes the road was fine when stoplights at the bridges controlled traffic. He thinks the new access ramps will exacerbate traffic woes.

“People who avoided 28 are going to start coming in more and more frequently,” he said.

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or bashe@tribweb.com.

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