TribLIVE

| News


 
Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Squirrel Hill Tunnel workers cope with speeders, exhaust fumes

Stephanie Strasburg | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA - Sean Sciulli, 41, of Monroeville, loads boxes of tiles onto workers' carts as they work through the early morning hours repairing the tile lining the Squirrel Hill Tunnels along Interstate 376 on Wednesday, June 23, 2014. The existing tile, which has been lining the walls since the original tunnel construction, has battled the moisture, expansion, and contraction of over 60 years on the tunnel walls.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg  |  TRIB TOTAL MEDIA</em></div>Sean Sciulli, 41, of Monroeville, loads boxes of tiles onto workers' carts as they work through the early morning hours repairing the tile lining the Squirrel Hill Tunnels along Interstate 376 on Wednesday, June 23, 2014. The existing tile, which has been lining the walls since the original tunnel construction, has battled the moisture, expansion, and contraction of over 60 years on the tunnel walls.
Stephanie Strasburg | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA - PENNDOT assistant construction manager Bill Lester of Upper Saint Clair and PENNDOT is illuminated as the night shift starts for construction on the Squirrel Hill Tunnels along Interstate 376 late on Tuesday, June 22, 2014. The improvements of the over 60-year-old tunnel are costing around $50 million and includes the work of plumbers, operating engineers, teamsters, carpenters, electricians, and other laborers.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg  |  TRIB TOTAL MEDIA</em></div>PENNDOT assistant construction manager Bill Lester of Upper Saint Clair and PENNDOT is illuminated as the night shift starts for construction on the Squirrel Hill Tunnels along Interstate 376 late on Tuesday, June 22, 2014. The improvements of the over 60-year-old tunnel are costing around $50 million and includes the work of plumbers, operating engineers, teamsters, carpenters, electricians, and other laborers.
Stephanie Strasburg | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA - Tile setter Ed Daniels, 58, of Monroeville, preps the wall of the Squirrel Hill Tunnels to lay new tiles on Interstate 376 early in the morning on Wednesday, June 23, 2014. Patches of the original tiles, which have been lining the tunnel since its construction over 60 years ago, are being replaced in patches as needed. Workers work as traffic passes in the lane adjacent, the constant sound and motion of traffic rolling by them at all hours.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg  |  TRIB TOTAL MEDIA</em></div>Tile setter Ed Daniels, 58, of Monroeville, preps the wall of the Squirrel Hill Tunnels to lay new tiles on Interstate 376 early in the morning on Wednesday, June 23, 2014. Patches of the original tiles, which have been lining the tunnel since its construction over 60 years ago, are being replaced in patches as needed. Workers work as traffic passes in the lane adjacent, the constant sound and motion of traffic rolling by them at all hours.
Stephanie Strasburg | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA - PENNDOT assistant construction manager Bill Lester (left) of Upper Saint Clair and PENNDOT project manager Kevin Heilmann of Springdale walk in to the Squirrel Hill Tunnels along Interstate 376 late on Tuesday, June 22, 2014. One of the improvements taking place in the tunnel was the removal of the false ceiling to improve air flow and save on restoration costs. 'We got rid of a ceiling we no longer have to maintain,' said Lester, saying that added savings come from not having to run the fans to maintain airflow in the tunnel as often.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg  |  TRIB TOTAL MEDIA</em></div>PENNDOT assistant construction manager Bill Lester (left) of Upper Saint Clair and PENNDOT project manager Kevin Heilmann of Springdale walk in to the Squirrel Hill Tunnels along Interstate 376 late on Tuesday, June 22, 2014. One of the improvements taking place in the tunnel was the removal of the false ceiling to improve air flow and save on restoration costs. 'We got rid of a ceiling we no longer have to maintain,' said Lester, saying that added savings come from not having to run the fans to maintain airflow in the tunnel as often.
Stephanie Strasburg | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA - Workers add a stainless steel plate to the exit of the Squirrel Hill Tunnels along Interstate 376 late on Tuesday, June 22, 2014. The improvements of the over 60-year-old tunnel are costing around $50 million and includes the work of plumbers, operating engineers, teamsters, carpenters, electricians, and other laborers.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg  |  TRIB TOTAL MEDIA</em></div>Workers add a stainless steel plate to the exit of the Squirrel Hill Tunnels along Interstate 376 late on Tuesday, June 22, 2014. The improvements of the over 60-year-old tunnel are costing around $50 million and includes the work of plumbers, operating engineers, teamsters, carpenters, electricians, and other laborers.
Stephanie Strasburg | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA - Bruce Rieffle of Massaro Industries holds one of the tiles going up in the Squirrel Hill Tunnels along Interstate 376 early in the morning on Wednesday, June 23, 2014. 'If you say your average kitchen is 100 square feet, this is 3,400 kitchens,' says PENNDOT assistant construction manager William Lester of the tiling project.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg  |  TRIB TOTAL MEDIA</em></div>Bruce Rieffle of Massaro Industries holds one of the tiles going up in the Squirrel Hill Tunnels along Interstate 376 early in the morning on Wednesday, June 23, 2014. 'If you say your average kitchen is 100 square feet, this is 3,400 kitchens,' says PENNDOT assistant construction manager William Lester of the tiling project.
Stephanie Strasburg | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA - Wayne Williams (center), 51, of Butler talks to Wayne Hay, 58, of Saxonburg, as they work with fellow Local 5 electrician Dillon Ellwood (right behind), 20, of Butler, to install new lighting in the Squirrel Hill Tunnels on Interstate 376 in the midnight hour on Wednesday, June 23, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg  |  TRIB TOTAL MEDIA</em></div>Wayne Williams (center), 51, of Butler talks to Wayne Hay, 58, of Saxonburg, as they work with fellow Local 5 electrician Dillon Ellwood (right behind), 20, of Butler, to install new lighting in the Squirrel Hill Tunnels on Interstate 376 in the midnight hour on Wednesday, June 23, 2014.
Stephanie Strasburg | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA - Patches of bright white tile mark where old tile has been replaced and walls reinforced in the Squirrel Hill Tunnels along Interstate 376 early in the morning on Wednesday, June 23, 2014. Patches of the original tiles, which have been lining the tunnel since its construction over 60 years ago, are being replaced in patches as needed.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg  |  TRIB TOTAL MEDIA</em></div>Patches of bright white tile mark where old tile has been replaced and walls reinforced in the Squirrel Hill Tunnels along Interstate 376 early in the morning on Wednesday, June 23, 2014. Patches of the original tiles, which have been lining the tunnel since its construction over 60 years ago, are being replaced in patches as needed.
Stephanie Strasburg | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA - Tile setter Shaker Obaid (right) of Allegheny County works through the early morning hours repairing the tile lining the Squirrel Hill Tunnels along Interstate 376 on Wednesday, July 23, 2014. The walls behind the patches where old tile is being replaced also get reinforced, and the fresh concrete must 'cure' or dry for 18 days before any new tiles can be applied to the area. Bruce Rieffle (front) oversees the tiling crew of 22 workers.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg  |  TRIB TOTAL MEDIA</em></div>Tile setter Shaker Obaid (right) of Allegheny County works through the early morning hours repairing the tile lining the Squirrel Hill Tunnels along Interstate 376 on Wednesday, July 23, 2014. The walls behind the patches where old tile is being replaced also get reinforced, and the fresh concrete must 'cure' or dry for 18 days before any new tiles can be applied to the area. Bruce Rieffle (front) oversees the tiling crew of 22 workers.
Stephanie Strasburg | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA - PENNDOT project manager Kevin Heilmann of Springdale points to one of the circulation fans in the belly of the Squirrel Hill Tunnels along Interstate 376 late on Tuesday, June 22, 2014. The fans, which have been in the tunnel since original construction over 60 years ago, were taken apart, serviced, cleaned and reassembled as part of the construction on the tunnels.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg  |  TRIB TOTAL MEDIA</em></div>PENNDOT project manager Kevin Heilmann of Springdale points to one of the circulation fans in the belly of the Squirrel Hill Tunnels along Interstate 376 late on Tuesday, June 22, 2014. The fans, which have been in the tunnel since original construction over 60 years ago, were taken apart, serviced, cleaned and reassembled as part of the construction on the tunnels.
Stephanie Strasburg | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA - Cameras monitor all lanes, traffic, and construction in the Squirrel Hill Tunnels along Interstate 376 from the belly of the tunnels' structure late on Tuesday, June 22, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg  |  TRIB TOTAL MEDIA</em></div>Cameras monitor all lanes, traffic, and construction in the Squirrel Hill Tunnels along Interstate 376 from the belly of the tunnels' structure late on Tuesday, June 22, 2014.

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.
By Nafari Vanaski
Sunday, July 27, 2014, 10:50 p.m.
 

No one escapes the tentacles of Squirrel Hill Tunnel traffic. Not even PennDOT employees.

“It's not our objective, but we're very good at it,” Bill Lester, an assistant construction manager for the tunnel's $50 million rehabilitation, joked after getting stuck in the traffic on a recent evening.

Lester coordinates the work of plumbers, carpenters and the electricians who are installing a lighting system.

It's been about 18 months since the project started. The work initially was scheduled to end last week.

Some detail-oriented work, done by hand under uncomfortable circumstances, remains.

Weather and added jobs extended the work, and PennDOT hasn't projected a completion date.

Crews removed a false ceiling, at first intending to replace it. But after reviewing repair costs, “We asked, ‘Why do we need it at all?' ” Lester said.

Though machines govern most of the tunnel's maintenance and rehab, the replacement of tiles that are 60 years old is done by hand.

The porcelain-glazed tiles are frost-proof to withstand any weather condition, said Bruce Rieffle of Massaro Industries in Oakmont, a subcontractor. Only one place in the world — in Germany — makes tiles to match the originals.

Workers inspected the concrete walls to prepare for the tiling. The process involves tapping on the walls to listen for “punk concrete,” or old concrete weakened by water and weather conditions, Lester said. It has to be extracted and replaced, and then the fresh concrete must cure for 18 days.

These workers will lay enough tile during the project to finish 3,400 average-sized kitchens. This night, that means placing 350 to 450 square feet of tile.

The crew of 22 works overnight shifts and sometimes must wait out traffic from events such as Pirates games to begin working.

But that's not the worst of the conditions in which they labor: Inside the tunnel, it's hot and muggy and smells like exhaust fumes.

Even if a car passes by at 40 mph, the wind and noise produces sensory overload. And most cars are traveling higher speeds.

That means remaining cautious at all times, watching for a car that might cross the zone marked by orange construction cones.

Rieffle has done this type of work for 33 years. He wanted to be a teacher originally.

Now, inside the Squirrel Hill Tunnel at 1 a.m., he shakes his head with a half-smile as a car that sounds like it could use a new muffler speeds past.

“Welcome to my world,” he said.

Nafari Vanaski is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-856-7400, ext. 8669, at nvanaski@tribweb.com or on Twitter @NafariTrib.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.

 

 


Show commenting policy

Most-Read Allegheny

  1. Court attire can have impact, public defenders say
  2. Closures planned for Parkway West
  3. Tiny black weevils booming in W.Pa.
  4. Man fatally shot in East Liberty; police investigating 2nd shooting
  5. Newsmaker: Katherine A. Davoli
  6. Homewood woman accused of card game stabbing
  7. Tradition rules in Pittsburgh: Keep bridge color the same, poll finds
  8. Independence Day festivities scheduled
  9. Higher school taxes prevail in Western Pennsylvania, Trib finds
  10. Pitt researchers using grant to find cures for viruses from mosquitoes
  11. Run-down duplex that Dormont helped to rehab not on the market long