Residents soon will have to find alternative routes to avoid traffic as the Squirrel Hill Tunnels partially close, creating an even larger construction headache for most who use the Parkway East on a regular basis.
The $49 million project is slated to begin in the next few weeks by Walsh Construction Company of Canonsburg.
“The Squirrel Hill Tunnels needs the rehabilitation work and this is the first major project in many years,” said James Struzzi, press officer for Pennsylvania Department of Transportation District 11. “Secondly, we had funding available to do the major work and when we have funding available, we have to move forward.”
The project includes updating electrical systems, lighting system, control system, ventilation system, structural repairs to the walls and arched ceiling, installation of a water line and other improvements.
In early March, no traffic restrictions will occur when the project initially begins as a lot will go on behind the scenes, including electrical work and construction that will happen above the traffic.
Overnight lane closures will begin in mid to late March, Struzzi said.
Struzzi said the project was not a result of complaining drivers saying they were “claustrophobic” while driving through the square tunnels. While there are many theories as to why drivers slow down before entering, one major issue that will be resolved is increased clearance of height.
“The project will remove the square ceiling and it will resemble the Liberty Tunnel with the dome ceilings when it is done,” Struzzi said. “It will allow us to stop congestion from over height vehicles.”
To minimize impacts on the traveling public, rehabilitation work on the bridge that carries the Parkway East over Commercial Street will be performed as part of the tunnel project. Expansion dam on-ramps at the Edgewood Swissvale interchange (Exit 77) will also be replaced.
Overall work is set to conclude in the summer of 2014.
The work will require overnight and weekend single lane traffic in the tunnel. In addition, 16 weekend closures (8 westbound in 2012, 8 eastbound in 2013) will occur as part of the project. No full closures will occur on weeknights.
Only one direction will be restricted at a time. Westbound (inbound) work is expected to occur in 2012 followed by eastbound (outbound) work in 2013.
Restrictions will occur according to the following time frames:
Monday through Thursdays:
- Eastbound (outbound): 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.
- Westbound (inbound): 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
- Eastbound: 11 p.m. on Fridays to 6 a.m. on Mondays
- Westbound: 10 p.m. on Fridays to 5 a.m. on Mondays
Preliminary Schedule (Tentative and Subject to Change):
- All work westbound in 2012
- No traffic restrictions expected until March; first westbound weekend closure and detour expected in late July (July 27-29)
February through May
- Work within ceiling: Conduit installation, concrete spall and crack repairs
- Rehabilitation of existing ventilation system
March through April
- Detour route pavement improvements (Penn Avenue, Forbes Avenue, Beechwood Boulevard, South Braddock Avenue)
April through May
- West portal building/roadway slab repair
March through October
- Tunnel barrier spall repairs
May through September
- Commercial Street Bridge rehabilitation
July through November
- Weekend closures begin
- Westbound tunnel ceiling removal
- Braddock interchange bridge expansion joint replacements