5-year Route 28 project ends, but minor work will continue through May
About 60,000 motorists are waking from a long nightmare.
That’s the number of drivers who travel Route 28 daily who found that traffic restrictions from a $180.9 million project to improve the route between Millvale and the North Side disappeared Monday. The move signaled the end of major construction, detours, delays and headaches along the heavily used highway that began more than five years ago.
“Really, there is an end? I thought this day would never come. I’m so excited it has,” said Cindy Sproull, owner of Cafe at the Lofts on River Avenue, just off Route 28.
Gov. Tom Corbett of Shaler, a regular Route 28 user for decades, understands the frustration. Corbett said he used at least six routes around construction when work began in 2009, talking about the bypasses as if they were secret fishing holes.
“This project shows how important transportation is to our quality of life,” Corbett said during a ribbon-cutting on the ramp from East Ohio Street to Route 28.
For the past five years, that meant agonizing delays and traffic restrictions along a two-mile stretch of Route 28 between the Chestnut Street overpass and just north of the 40th Street Bridge. Alternate routes routinely were just as gridlocked.
“When they had Route 28 northbound down to one lane, everyone came down this way. You could sit on River Avenue for 20 minutes without moving,” Sproull said of the road on which her restaurant sits, noting the project slowed deliveries and drove dine-in customers elsewhere.
Corbett said the project will mean improved safety and mobility for many years to come.
It remakes Route 28 as a mostly four-lane, limited-access highway with a median barrier, emergency pulloffs and no traffic lights between the North Side and Kittanning.
Armstrong County’s Forrest Beitzel, who works for Consol Energy at Southpointe in Cecil, is optimistic the improvements will shave time off his commute. He said former traffic lights, particularly ones at the 31st Street Bridge, slowed many of his past commutes to a crawl.
“Hopefully, this construction opens it up a little bit. It’s definitely been a long time coming,” Beitzel, 42, said.
Construction costs came in about 11 percent under the original $120 million budget estimate.
“It’s a model of how to make improvements in a tight, urban space” with limited funding, PennDOT District 11 Executive Dan Cessna said. Work began before state leaders brokered a deal in November to generate $2.3 billion annually for transportation needs across the state.
PennDOT spent $180.9 million on the project when costs for property acquisition, engineering work, utility and railroad relocation, and construction inspections were included.
PennDOT bought 162 properties, forcing 15 residents, 24 businesses and 48 billboards to move, Cessna said. Not all property owners went quietly.
William Lieberth waged a lengthy legal battle with PennDOT to keep his Allegheny Auto Body along Route 28. After telling the Trib in 2012 that he would “go berserk if they evict me,” Allegheny County sheriff’s deputies surrounded the shop and gave him a half-hour to vacate the premises before padlocking the doors. In September, Lieberth fatally shot his son’s girlfriend and himself at his new auto body shop in Penn Hills.
Cessna said minor work with a limited impact on motorists will continue through May, including tree and shrub planting, pavement line painting and light-pole installation. He said the next project along Route 28 could improve northbound traffic flow by adding a lane in the area of the Highland Park Bridge, but it’s unclear when it would begin or how much it would cost.
“Route 28 will be construction-free for the foreseeable future,” Cessna said.
Braden Ashe contributed. Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847.