Pittsburgh Union Progress: Pittsburgh’s long-awaited high-tech traffic management center should open in the next two years with regional planning support

Over the next two years, Pittsburgh is ready to move ahead with a $32 million traffic management system to improve traffic flow on six busy corridors.

That system, which will allow signals to be changed as needed based on traffic flow and provide a quicker response to traffic accidents, highlights a series of city projects included in the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission’s Transportation Improvement Program. SPC had a public hearing Friday on projects in Pittsburgh, one of 11 hearings it will have before approving the regional transportation plan June 24.

Jeff Skalican, deputy director of the city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, said during the hearing the city has advertised for someone to manage its proposed traffic management center. The center and series of corridors known as “spines” are scheduled to get $29.3 million over the next two years.

After the meeting, Skalican said he is “really excited” that the city will hire the traffic center manager in the next couple of months. The manager will help to oversee development of the center itself in the 412 Building on the Boulevard of the Allies, Downtown, where employees will monitor a series of cameras focused on more than 200 intersections across the city.

The project is an outgrowth of the city’s bid in 2016 to win a one-time Smart Cities Challenge by the U.S. Department of Transportation to use technology to address a transportation issue. The city lost the challenge to Columbus, Ohio, but federal officials were impressed with the city’s proposal and awarded a $12 million grant to help move it forward.

Over the years, the city has cobbled together a series of state and federal grants to finally move ahead with the concept. Skalican said the city hasn’t settled on which corridors will move ahead first, but two should be ready in the next two years and the other four in SPC’s next two-year funding cycle.

The corridors scheduled for smart signals, which also could allow Pittsburgh Regional Transit buses to have priority at intersections, are Bigelow Boulevard, Second Avenue, Centre Avenue, Penn Avenue, Route 51 and West Liberty Avenue. They also will be installed along Forbes and Fifth avenues, where PRT is building its University Line that will have dedicated lanes for buses between Downtown Pittsburgh and Oakland.

The city also has three bridge projects scheduled for construction funding over the next two years: the Swinburne Bridge over Saline Street in lower Oakland ($12.3 million); the 28th Street Bridge over the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway in Polish Hill ($10 million); and the South Negley Avenue Bridge in Shadyside ($6.45 million). Skalican said Swinburne is scheduled for replacement in 2026 and 28th Street for major rehabilitation in 2027, but South Negley hasn’t been scheduled while the city works out details with Norfolk Southern Railroad, which has tracks pass under the structure.

Nine other city bridges have funds earmarked for design work for future replacement or rehabilitation projects.

The Transportation Improvement Program also includes funds for other city projects such as the Allegheny River Green Boulevard bike trail; reconfiguring the traffic pattern on Liberty Avenue through the Strip District to improve safety; and improving traffic on Brownsville Road in the South Hills, Beaver Avenue on the North Side and Penn Avenue in the East End.

The city received heavy criticism after the collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge in January 2022 for not having pushed at SPC for funding to upgrade a series of poorly rated bridges. That has changed under the administration of Mayor Ed Gainey, which took office three weeks before the collapse and has made a concerted effort to be more involved in the agency that vets federal funding for transportation projects.

“We’ll have more projects on the TIP than ever before,” Skalican said. “We have seven or eight for construction funding now where we used to have only one or two.”

Overall, SPC expects to spend $1.7 billion on transportation projects over the next two years, up about 7% from the current plan. About 43% of that will be spent on bridges and 22% on roads across the 10-county area.

The commission covers Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Washington and Westmoreland counties and Pittsburgh.

Dom D’Andrea, SPC’s director of transportation, said about $860 million will be spent on 280 bridge projects and $437 million on roads. The region has reduced the number of bridges in poor condition from more than 20% to about 13%, but D’Andrea said, “There’s still more to do,” especially with bridges owned by smaller municipalities.

The agency has remaining hearings on the TIP in eight counties over the next three weeks, beginning with Westmoreland County at 1 p.m. Monday at the county courthouse. Go to the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission website for the full schedule.

View the full article at unionprogress.com.