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More than a half-billion dollars in bridge, road work set for W.Pa. this year

| Thursday, April 3, 2014, 11:51 a.m.
Tribune-Review File
Entering the Fort Pitt Tunnel heading outbound on the lower deck of the Fort Pitt Bridge on Friday, March 22, 2002.

Western Pennsylvania drivers will be seeing orange this construction season — and a lot of it.

PennDOT officials on Thursday announced more than $500 million in road and bridge projects throughout the region, including a major resurfacing project on the Parkway West and a complete rehabilitation of the Birmingham Bridge connecting the South Side and Oakland.

“You'll see more roads resurfaced than in many, many years,” said PennDOT District 11 Executive Dan Cessna, whose area covers Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties. “With Allegheny County, it's a three- or four-page list, and it's pretty thick, which is great.”

Allegheny County's district is slated for $277 million in projects, and District 12 — which encompasses Westmoreland, Fayette, Greene and Washington counties — will get $215 million in projects.

Statewide, $2.1 billion will be spent on the state's highways and bridges, about $600 million more than what would have been available without the transportation bill that Gov. Tom Corbett signed last fall. It hiked vehicle-related fees and the wholesale gas tax to pay for the extra work.

“We knew there were transportation infrastructure needs that wouldn't have been done without Act 89. It's good to see PennDOT is putting it toward projects,” said Ken Zapinski, senior vice president of energy and infrastructure at the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

The organization, which supported the legislation, is affiliated with the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce.

The Parkway West project — beginning in mid-summer — will be the most expensive local project, costing as much as $51 million for work from I-79 to the Fort Pitt Tunnel. It involves resurfacing, extending ramps, shoulder reconstruction and deck replacement of three bridges at the Carnegie interchange. A lane will be added outbound near the Rosslyn Farms exit at the interchange with the Parkway West and I-79.

Two lanes of traffic will be maintained on the Parkway West during peak hours, such as morning and evening commutes, and most of the lane closures will be on weeknights and weekends.

Rehabbing the structurally deficient Birmingham Bridge will cost as much as $42 million, beginning in July. That work includes steel repairs, bearing replacements, substructure repairs and painting.

Allen Biehler, a former PennDOT secretary who is now a Carnegie Mellon University professor, said the extra money will help the state catch up on its backlog of repairs.

“If this means it gets the existing system under control, it's wonderful,” Biehler said. “If you can extend the life of a bridge, that's a better use of public money than replacing it.”

PennDOT slapped weight restrictions on 2,000 structurally deficient bridges last year. About 100 of those restrictions will be lifted this year after repairs are done. Among those not on this year's to-do list are the Liberty Bridge, Elizabeth Bridge and Koppel Bridge in Beaver County.

Cessna said repairs for those bridges are still being designed but could be part of next year's schedule. He said the Liberty Bridge repairs will be extensive, requiring major closures. Several major projects also continue from last construction season, including work on Route 51/West Carson Street, Route 28, the intersection of routes 51 and 88, the Squirrel Hill and Liberty tunnels, and the Hulton Bridge between Harmar and Oakmont.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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