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February 22, 2007

Traffic alert: Oakland portal bridge project to begin March 19

The road improvement project that encompasses the long-awaited, much-needed replacement of the Boulevard of the Allies Bridge and construction of a new portal into Oakland is slated to start in mid-March.

“We have an anticipated notice to proceed March 19,” said Mavis Rainey of the Oakland Transportation Management Association (OTMA).

But don’t look for detours right away — the bridge won’t be closed for nearly a year, Rainey said. Instead, motorists initially will begin to see both stationary signs and electronic signboards spring up along nearby roadways. “It won’t be detour information, but information on the project,” Rainey said. “No detours are planned until 2008.”

In addition, Rainey said a public meeting will bring Oakland area residents, students, employees and employers face to face with representatives of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the project contractor, Joseph B. Fay Co., for details. The meeting date has yet to be finalized, but Rainey said she is aiming for it to occur sometime in the first week of March.

In addition, a closed meeting between PennDOT and other Oakland area project developers is planned in hopes of coordinating work so as to minimize inconvenience to residents and motorists.

The 1928 bridge now is posted with a 9-ton weight limit and rated by PennDOT as a structurally deficient bridge.

The project has been prioritized due to its condition, with PennDOT opting to delay some work on Route 28 in order to free sufficient funding for the Oakland project. Last fall, PennDOT District 11 executive Dan Cessna said he could not guarantee that the bridge would remain open until it is time to demolish the span, given its condition, adding that PennDOT in recent years has poured between $300,000 and $500,000 each year in stopgap maintenance to keep the bridge open.

But PennDOT District 11 press officer James B. Struzzi II said that maintaining the bridge this winter has not presented any additional challenges, mainly because of the prior work that had been done. “We will continue to monitor and make necessary repairs until the bridge is replaced as part of the project,” Struzzi said.

The project has been a long time in coming. An initial public meeting for the bridge project took place in 1995 but subsequent progress has been plagued with almost as many potholes as the boulevard itself. The most recent delay came last October when PennDOT rejected all bids and ordered a streamlined project re-bid after bids exceeded available funding by 50 percent.

New bids were opened Feb. 1 in Harrisburg and the Fay Co.’s low bid of $29.1 million was approved Feb. 15, coming in at $2.7 million less than the Russelton, Pa.-based firm’s October low bid of $31.8 million.

“We are pleased with the bids received,” stated Cessna in a prepared release. “Credit for this successful effort must be given to everyone involved, including our partners and stakeholders who committed rigorous time and energy to modify the project and enable this re-bid in time to meet the original construction timeframe starting this spring. This is a much-needed project to replace an outdated, deteriorated structure. The entire western Pennsylvania region will benefit from this key infrastructure improvement.”

Contributing to the cost savings was a design-build component (in which the contractor designs parts of the project as it is built) and provisions that give the contractor more leeway in construction scheduling, along with some detail paring that shaved dollars off the bottom line. In addition, the Richard King Mellon Foundation contributed $250,000 toward landscaping.

The design changes have eliminated one proposed span from the design, replacing it with a ramp instead. The two existing bridges, known as the Boulevard of the Allies mainline bridge and the south ramp bridge, both will be demolished. When the dust settles, what will emerge are a new mainline bridge and an exit ramp to Forbes Avenue. The earlier plan called for a ramp bridge rather than just a ramp, noted John Wilds, Pitt assistant vice chancellor of Community and Governmental Relations, who has participated in community stakeholder meetings on the University’s behalf.

Traffic that now must stop before merging onto Forbes will have a dedicated lane, allowing traffic to proceed without a stop.

A new ramp that will connect Fifth Avenue directly with the Boulevard of the Allies will eliminate the counterflow lane on Forbes Avenue, allowing a widening of the three lanes that now enter Oakland via Forbes Avenue.

Construction sequencing also has been changed, Rainey said, with that ramp being built in Phase I of the two-year project. When that portion is finished, traffic leaving Oakland on Fifth Avenue no longer will need to turn onto Craft Avenue then onto the counterflow lane on Forbes to access the Boulevard of the Allies.

Completing the ramp first makes sense, Rainey said, because it will alleviate congestion on Craft Avenue when the boulevard bridge is closed. “It will help for westbound travelers,” she said.

Updated information, illustrations of the new project design and detour plans are available at online. Those with questions or concerns about the project may contact OTMA for answers by calling 412/687-4505 or emailing

Rainey said plans for a webcam on the project site are being finalized so the work in progress can be viewed online.

“We’re all just really anxious,” said Rainey. “It’s been some time in coming, but we finally got a contractor and are ready to go.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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