Route 51 Closure Causes More Commute Problems Than Expected

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — There was no question going into the latest road project on Route 51 in the South Hills that it was going to be challenging.

No one expected it to be as challenging as it turned out Monday morning.

Over the weekend, PennDOT’s contractor closed the northbound lanes of 51 where the road crosses over Route 19/West Liberty Avenue. The bridge needs to be repaired and resurfaced, and that work will be done over the next three weeks.

Closing those lanes means all the traffic on that stretch of 51 is now being detoured to the Liberty Tunnel/West Liberty Avenue intersection.

“We’re almost doubling the traffic from mainline 51 down to the ramp,” says PennDOT Dist. 11 spokesman Steve Cowan.

By the number, the ramp that was carrying 11,000 cars a day will be carrying 25,000 vehicles a day while the work is being done. That includes a lot of heavy trucks.

Cowan says the result Monday morning was “significant congestion issues. It was the first day, and there was rain obviously impacting traffic.”

Add to the mess on 51 the fact that drivers who escaped to Banksville Road and the Parkway West ran into a different issue.

“There was a crash at the Fort Pitt Tunnel, so people taking the alternates had issues too,” Cowan said.

PennDOT can’t do anything about accidents, but can help the issue that developed on Route. 51. While a police officer was running the traffic signal outside the Liberty Tunnel, he had no way of seeing how far back the snarl of traffic stretched. The two lanes of crawling traffic at its peak were backed up beyond Route 88.

Christine D’Antonio’s Report:

So PennDOT is going to make an adjustment by adding inspectors to strategic spots along Route 51 to give the officer real time information about the extent of the backup.

Cowan says the officer “can increase the time for the northbound traffic to get through the intersection.”

Of course, any increase in green light time for the detoured Route 51 traffic means everyone else at the intersection will be seeing red longer.

“We’ll continue to monitor it and see if there are any other adjustments we can make,” Cowan said.

Drivers tend to adjust their commute times, and routes, to avoid construction-generated issues.

“It’s going to be difficult for the next few days,” Cowan said. “Things will get better as people adjust their schedules and look for alternate routes.”

This revised traffic pattern will be with us for the next 20 days and will include the closing of the ramp from the Liberty Tunnel to southbound 51 for 10 days before it’s over. The entire reconstruction of the intersection is slated to wrap up by July 12.

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