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Ecstatic drivers see light of day

| Thursday, Aug. 1, 2002

Jerry Woolf of Carnegie registered a place in PennDOT history Wednesday when he became the first motorist to cross the outbound Fort Pitt Bridge and Tunnel since it closed for renovations April 6.

Woolf darted his limousine onto the Liberty Avenue ramp a few minutes past 6 p.m. from a nearby Downtown parking spot, where he had waited a half hour for the bridge to reopen. Following close behind, a stream of motorists — beeping, waving and smiling — made their way to the bridge and tunnel.

"I'm excited," Woolf said minutes before the reopening. "This will relieve the stress across the West End and Liberty bridges. Now my clients will be more reassured about getting to the airport on time."

The outbound lanes of the bridge and tunnel will remain open during daylight hours for 75,000 motorists until next spring. Overnight work will shut down the bridge and tunnel between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. through August.

PennDOT is paying Trumbull Corp. $84.2 million to renovate the Fort Pitt Bridge and Tunnel, with work shifting next spring to the inbound lanes.

Last night's reopening of the outbound lanes came off without a hitch.

"Everything is right on schedule," said Ed Cabana of Trumbull.

The span's opening couldn't have come sooner for some Downtown commuters, many of whom have followed PennDOT's two marked detour routes over the West End and Liberty bridges. Both outlets direct traffic back onto the Parkway West.

"I'm glad it's reopening because this was a hassle," said Debra Johnson, of Sheraden, who said her bus stop had been relocated during the project.

Both detours have worked well, according to most reports from drivers. As a result, PennDOT intends to use the same detours next year by simply diverting inbound traffic through the renovated outbound lanes of the bridge and tunnel.

"They had it set up really well," said Sid Baker of Downtown. "I'm glad that's what they're going to do next year."

Over the next several days, Trumbull will strip away the special detour routes at the West End and Liberty bridges. Tonight, an outbound lane of the Fort Pitt Bridge will be blocked off.

Not all of this year's work is completed, which will require Trumbull to close the bridge and tunnel in the evenings between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., starting Monday. The night work, including replacement of ceiling tiles and electrical systems, will continue through August.

Trumbull also will install a shield above the lower outbound lanes of the bridge to protect the newly improved bridge surface from next year's work.

Trumbull appears to have met the terms of its PennDOT contract that triggered a $1.5 million bonus for reopening the span to daytime traffic. Beginning Aug. 1, the contract offered a $100,000-a-day bonus for reopening the span during daylight hours before Aug. 16. The company would have been fined $100,000 daily if the outbound tunnel and bridge had not opened by Aug. 17.

Some travel restrictions will remain in the general area of the tunnel and bridge, however. The Stanwix Street ramp to the bridge will be closed through November.

During overnight work, the Parkway East inbound lanes will be closed from Grant Street to the Fort Pitt Bridge. And the Fort Duquesne Boulevard ramp will be closed.

On days when the Pirates or Steelers play at their North Shore stadiums, the closures and travel restrictions will not begin until one hour after the games have ended.

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