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Commuters, start your engines

| Sunday, March 30, 2003

The inbound commute Monday morning for Parkway West drivers will require more maneuvering, turns and lane changes than most drivers perform at the Daytona 500.

Workday commuters will get their first look at the inbound detour PennDOT put into effect Friday night to accommodate Fort Pitt Bridge and Tunnel construction work.

About 75,000 motorists will be detoured. Drivers who want to get Downtown will use the outbound side of the tunnel - possibly the most complex detour ever in Pittsburgh.

It's going to be a nail-biter, for drivers and PennDOT.

"It is the biggest reconstruction project that we've ever seen," said PennDOT spokesman Dick Skrinjar. "There's no project that rivals this."

PennDOT is paying Trumbull Corp. $84.2 million to complete work on the inbound lanes of the bridge and tunnel by the end of this year. However, the detours are scheduled to end by mid-August - the remaining work would be done overnight or on off-peak hours.

Outbound motorists have been detoured away from the tunnel since March 21, following routes over the Liberty and West End bridges.

Now, inbound drivers also will follow two routes around the work area.

Motorists heading to Downtown or the Parkway East will be diverted through the outbound lanes of the tunnel. Those heading north - to the Parkway North (Interstate 279), Ohio River Boulevard (Route 65), Allegheny Valley Expressway (Route 28) or into the North Side - will exit the Parkway West onto Route 51 to the West End Bridge.

The inbound detours went into effect at 10 p.m. Friday. Monday is the first time rush hour traffic will use the detours. PennDOT officials plan to watch the flow of traffic closely.

Inbound commuters will have three choices once they emerge from the Fort Pitt Tunnel: Follow the far left lane to the 10th Street Bypass, the center ramp to Liberty Avenue or the Boulevard of the Allies, or the far right lane to the Parkway East outbound, where they also may exit onto a ramp at Grant Street.

Trumbull completed work on the outbound side of the bridge and tunnel last year. Trumbull's 2-year contract is the last phase of a decade of work on the span, tunnel and nearby roads.

By most accounts, PennDOT's outbound detours worked well last year, even though traffic on Downtown streets such as the Boulevard of the Allies backed up.

This year, transportation officials anticipate Downtown traffic will not be as bad, mostly because Fort Pitt Boulevard has reopened after being closed last year during a reconstruction project.

Now, the boulevard offers another main route for Downtown motorists, especially those heading outbound on the Parkway East.

PennDOT also built a single-lane connection to the Parkway East outbound next to the boulevard, called the Interstate Connector. The connector really benefits drivers crossing the Fort Duquesne Bridge who want to head outbound on the Parkway East. It offers a straight shot through Downtown without having to stop.

Also, the 10th Street Bypass has reopened after being closed since February 2001 to accommodate construction of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

It will be a key route into the Downtown during this year's detours and also will provide a link to the Strip District.

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