Pittsburgh Union-Progress: ‘Game-changing investment’: Federal grant funds $142 million of work on Parkway East, East Busway

At this time last year, Cheryl Moon-Sirianni outlined a series of projects to improve the Parkway East, which hasn’t had a major overhaul in more than 30 years.

On Monday, the former district executive who now has a statewide job with the state Department of Transportation got several of those projects funded through a federal grant, plus additional money for a series of projects that will benefit bus riders who use the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway. 

A $142.3 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant for the Eastern Pittsburgh Multimodal Corridor Project will install signs for variable-speed traffic on the parkway, fix chronic flooding in the area known as “the bathtub” in Downtown Pittsburgh, and build hard shoulders for buses and a ramp from the parkway directly to the inbound Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway.

The grant, announced by Pennsylvania’s U.S. Sens. Bob Casey and John Fetterman and U.S. Rep. Summer Lee of Swissvale, all Democrats, is part of the Biden administration’s economic stimulus program. The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, which oversees federal transportation for a 10-county area, applied for the money on behalf of several agencies and governments, including PennDOT and Pittsburgh Regional Transit.

“Thanks to the infrastructure law, two of Allegheny County’s most heavily traveled roadways will become safer and easier to navigate,” Casey said in a news release. “The Parkway East and the MLK Busway allow people from Monroeville to Oakland — including many in historically marginalized communities — to travel Downtown and points throughout the region.”

The project that probably will affect the most people is the traffic management plan for the highway, which carries about 100,000 vehicles daily. PennDOT wants to install special equipment that can read traffic congestion and set variable speed limits on inbound traffic between Monroeville and the Squirrel Hill Tunnel to keep traffic moving at an even pace.

Traffic engineer Todd Kravitz has said previously that it is safer and quicker for motorists if traffic travels at an even speed rather than traveling at 55 miles an hour and then coming to a complete stop due to congestion. The $48.5 million system, which also includes equipment to identify and warn vehicles traveling in the wrong direction, could be ready for construction in the next year or two.

The bathtub is a low area of the inbound Parkway East adjacent to the Monongahela Wharf, a parking area and park that gets covered with water when the Monongahela River rises. PennDOT has been developing plans for several years to build a higher retaining wall along the edge of the highway in that area to reduce or eliminate the chance of flooding, which closes the roadway and forces traffic to wind through narrow, congested Downtown streets.

In January, Moon-Sirianni said building a higher wall will be tricky because holding back more water could create additional pressure on the highway itself and cause it to heave. That would create a more serious problem.

The grant allocates $39 million for that project, which Moon-Siriani had said could be ready for construction in 2026.

Additional road work will include improvements to arteries that feed traffic to the parkway to reduce congestion and improve response to incidents.

Fetterman called the grant “a game-changing investment.”

“This massive funding will help fix longstanding flooding concerns in the corridor, allow our region’s infrastructure to adapt to the climate crisis, and expand transit options across Allegheny County. Most of all, it will make sure people across our region can get where they need to go,” he said in the news release.

To serve transit riders, the grant will fund work to create hard shoulders that buses can use and build a ramp directly from the Parkway East to Pittsburgh Regional Transit’s Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway near Edgewood Towne Center at the Edgewood/Swissvale border.

The hard shoulders and ramp will allow quicker trips for PRT buses by freeing them from rush-hour traffic congestion and eliminate slow trips on neighborhood streets that those buses use now to get to the busway.

“A better connection from [the Parkway East] to the busway could certainly benefit PRT,” spokesman Adam Brandolph said.

Among the agency’s goals in its NexTransit long-range plan two years ago were exclusive highway lanes for buses and extending the busway from Swissvale to East Pittsburgh.

The agency also would benefit from several other aspects of the grant. That includes additional sidewalks around bus stops in Monroeville to improve safety for bus riders along Business Route 22, plus slope stabilization to prevent landslides, paving and drainage work along the busway.

View the full story at unionprogress.com .