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January 5, 2006

Traffic tangles in Oakland expected

Patience is likely to be in high demand among commuters who use Forbes Avenue on their way into Oakland each day. A combination of construction projects and road improvements are expected to bring traffic tangles for the next two years.

A $31 million expansion of Magee-Womens Research Institute (MWRI) already underway at the corner of Forbes and Craft avenues will promote the work of researchers dedicated to improving the health of women and babies, but there’s no immediate cure for the headaches it’s giving commuters.

A closure of the curb lane on Forbes Avenue at the MWRI construction site is causing rush-hour traffic jams just beyond the traditionally difficult spot where traffic from the Boulevard of the Allies ramp must stop, then merge with Forbes Avenue traffic. Already a bottleneck during rush hour, it’s made even tighter with one less lane of traffic on Forbes Avenue once drivers have merged.

And that’s just the beginning. The replacement of the decrepit Boulevard of the Allies/Forbes Avenue overpass could begin as early as this May, said Mavis Rainey, executive director of the Oakland Transportation Management Association (OTMA).

The $18.8 million project, along with several smaller road improvement projects thrown in for good measure, means commuters can brace themselves for delays and detours for the next two years.

The good news is that when the dust settles and the orange barrels are cleared, a more attractive, convenient portal to Oakland will be the result, Rainey said.

The five-phase Boulevard of the Allies bridge project includes replacement of the overpass and reconstruction of the southbound exit ramp to Forbes Avenue, in addition to creating a new direct connection between Fifth Avenue and the Boulevard of the Allies.

The boulevard’s mainline and south ramp bridges will be demolished and replaced with a new mainline bridge and an exit ramp that will allow traffic entering Oakland to merge onto Forbes Avenue without stopping.

Project plans developed by engineering firm Wilbur Smith Associates call for a new north ramp connecting Fifth Avenue to the Boulevard of the Allies directly, eliminating the Forbes Avenue counterflow lane and allowing the widening of the lanes entering Oakland. The intersection of Fifth Avenue, Robinson Street and Maurice Street will be realigned to direct traffic to the new north ramp. Traffic leaving Oakland via Fifth Avenue no longer will need to turn left onto Craft Avenue then right onto the Forbes Avenue counterflow lane to reach the boulevard, once the new north ramp is built.

(For aerial photos comparing the existing road configuration and the planned upgrades, visit on line.)

Detours and lane closures will be in effect throughout the project. Phase I lane closures on the Boulevard of the Allies and Forbes Avenue are expected from the beginning of the roadwork through at least the end of 2006. The detours and road closings will shift as the project progresses.

Getting through the next two years may be difficult for the estimated 25,000 – 30,000 drivers who use the Boulevard of the Allies, Forbes and Fifth avenues each day.

But, transportation officials hope to minimize the effect on commuters by providing ongoing information on the project, working to alleviate congestion and expanding commuting alternatives.

Rainey said transit officials are investigating ways to create more free-flowing traffic by adjusting traffic signals where feasible.

They also are encouraging commuters to carpool, vanpool or use public transit to reduce the number of vehicles in Oakland. (Information on commuting alternatives is available on the Pitt Office of Parking, Transportation and Services web site at

And officials are working to ensure commuters have up-to-date information on road projects. Electronic signs will be posted on state roads during construction. The OTMA web site,, also has detailed information on the Boulevard of the Allies project including detour maps and computer renderings of the new roadways.

During the next two years, drivers will have plenty of time to contemplate the wider lanes and easier access as they endure the detours, but the wait will be worth it, Rainey said.

“Once it’s complete, it’s amazing how different it will be,” she said, emphasizing that commuters will find access to and from Oakland much easier as well as more attractive.

Among the planned upgrades are the creation of a “portal” that includes landscaping, decorative concrete treatments and other elements that will help make Oakland a more appealing destination for visitors, Rainey said.

Other projects that may impact Oakland traffic over the next two years are:

• Planned construction of a nine-story parking facility at the Veterans Administration’s University Drive campus that will require about 900 employees to be shuttled to and from work while the project is in progress.

• Construction of a new Pitt Public Safety building at Forbes Avenue and Halket Street. A construction schedule has yet to be set for the $6 million project, which is in the planning stages. Traffic impact from the project is expected to be minimal because construction vehicles will access the site from Euler Way, Rainey said.

• Intersection improvements on Fifth and Forbes avenues designed to increase pedestrian safety with new lighting, signals, curbs and sidewalks. The intersections of Fifth and Craft avenues and Fifth and Bigelow Boulevard could be improved this spring, Rainey said.

Another project, the first phase of which is set to begin in 2007, will upgrade the intersections of Fifth Avenue at McKee Place, Meyran and Oakland avenues, and Thackeray, Atwood and DeSoto streets, as well as the Forbes Avenue intersections of Oakland Avenue, Atwood and South Bouquet streets.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 38 Issue 9

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