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Project to expand Freedom Road bridge over turnpike moves forward

| Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014, 11:28 p.m.
Traffic backs up along the Freedom Road bridge spanning the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Cranberry on Thursday. The Turnpike Commission said it expects to begin construction on an expansion of the bridge in 2017.

Construction is expected to begin in 2017 on the long-sought expansion of the Freedom Road bridge that spans the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Cranberry, the Turnpike Commission said on Thursday.

“It's the bottleneck on Freedom Road,” said township assistant manager Duane McKee. “It's probably the most expensive piece of the puzzle that we had to move on to expand the corridor.”

PennDOT officials said they hired Downtown engineering design firm HDR Inc. to design the $8.5 million bridge, which Cranberry officials said should carry five lanes, including one turning lane, over the turnpike. Sidewalks along either side of the bridge are a possibility, McKee said.

PennDOT and the commission reached an agreement to work together on the project.

PennDOT has earmarked $1 million for design work and $1.4 million for land acquisition, said Brian Allen, assistant district executive for District 10, which includes Butler County.

The turnpike will use toll money to pay for construction, said spokeswoman Sue Jones.

The Turnpike Commission raised tolls 2 percent this year, and in June announced a 5 percent toll increase effective Jan. 4. The commission said it was raising rates not only to pay for annual transportation-funding payments to PennDOT, but to maintain and repair its aging roadway system spanning more than 550 miles.

The Freedom Road project stalled several years ago, Allen said, because the state shifted money to repair structurally deficient bridges. Allen said the project was earmarked for funding before November's passage of the state transportation bill, which is expected to raise billions of dollars through an oil company franchise tax charged to wholesalers.

Design work should begin in the fall, Allen said. That, along with land purchases for rights of way, bidding and related tasks, mean it will be 2017 before construction begins.

There's no timetable for how long construction will last, but because it crosses the turnpike, “it won't be easy in that area. We will do our very best to minimize disruptions,” Allen said.

That section of Freedom Road carries about 25,000 vehicles daily, according to the township. In recent years, the township has spearheaded projects to alleviate traffic woes in the area, including installing new ramps from Route 228 west to Interstate 79 and widening Freedom Road from Route 19 to the turnpike bridge.

With the expanded bridge, McKee said, the township still hopes to pursue expansion efforts of the two-lane Freedom Road toward Beaver County.

With residential areas along that stretch of road, he said, “we'll be careful on how we move forward on that.”

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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