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Connector project to continue through winter

| Thursday, Dec. 12, 2002

Winter will not stand in the way of the Cranberry Connector project.

The $44.3 million project will link Interstate 79 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Once the two are linked, motorists will have direct access between the two highways and will not be required to exit into Cranberry as they must now.

The current portion of the ongoing project calls for massive amounts of earth moving and replacement of the Freeport Road bridge, as well as construction of three new bridges.

Jim Struzzi, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, said some work can be done even when temperatures dip.

"Mostly excavation and drainage work," he said. "We can still do that regardless of the weather."

Struzzi said most smaller construction projects shut down for the winter. However, in the case of the connector project, PennDOT officials want to keep it moving forward.

And, Struzzi said, the project is on schedule.

Gary Madey, project engineer for PennDOT, said work this winter includes completion of the site grading.

"Basically we're going to pretty much finish our earth-moving operations," he said. "It will take another month. Then we'll be installing drainage."

Construction crews have moved about 80 percent of the 1.2 million cubic yards of dirt that needs to be moved, he said.

Madey said the installation of drainage systems could be hampered by large snowfalls, otherwise, it will continue.

"It will be day to day. If we get a heavy snow, it won't work," he said.

While concrete typically doesn't cure in colder temperatures, Madey said there are techniques to heat it. Those techniques, however, will not be utilized on this project because it would be cost prohibitive, he said.

The steel for the bridges will be set during the winter months, however, and concrete will be poured when the weather is warmer in the spring.

Madey said despite the cold, crews are still working two shifts a day to get everything done.

"They work 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 4 p.m. to midnight," he said.

As for the cold, Madey said the workers are "used to it."

"Some of the equipment has heaters in it," he said.

One nice thing about the project, Madey said, is that there have been no surprises.

"It's been going real well," he said. "There haven't been any tricky things. Everything is running pretty much as planned."

While work continues throughout the winter, Struzzi said motorists should remember to be on the lookout for road crews and changing traffic patterns.

Because many motorists are not used to seeing road crews out in the winter, the cold weather work does have its hazards, he said.

Save any unforeseen occurrences, Struzzi said the work will go on as scheduled.

The connector project began two years ago with the $10.4 million replacement and widening of the Route 228 bridge. That work was completed last year.

The second phase, also completed last year, was the $4.5 million addition of ramps along Route 228 so motorists can access I-79 southbound from Route 228 and reach Route 228 from I-79 northbound.

The original connector project concept began taking shape in the late 1980s when the design process started. During the design stages, the project was slowed down from the many versions suggested.

A funding shortage delayed the project until 1997, when engineers found ways to trim $16 million from the cost. Cost-saving solutions included constructing additional I-79 lanes within existing PennDOT medians so less land would have to be purchased from private property owners.

The connector is expected to be completed in 2004. Dick Corp. of Pittsburgh is the prime contractor.

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