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Bates Street ramps to Oakland a new expressway alternative

Sunday, March 18, 2001

By Joe Grata, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Under a new option being studied, the Mon-Fayette Expressway would have a network of exit-entry ramps built at Bates Street to provide a direct connection between the toll road and Oakland.

The Bates Street ramp would be the third access point for the Pittsburgh end of the expressway, which will eventually run from the city to West Virginia along a path that roughly follows the Monongahela River.

Although construction would take at least 40 houses and businesses along the stretch of Bates built on the hillside between Second Avenue and the Boulevard of the Allies, it would improve the Bates Street interchange on the Parkway East.

It would also help traffic flow on some Oakland streets and provide a third direct way to get on and off the Mon-Fayette Expressway, whose 24-mile, $1.2 billion northern section has been advancing steadily, albeit quietly, in the complicated federal highway approval process.

The other, previously planned components of the Pittsburgh interchange would connect the expressway with the Parkway east of the Birmingham Bridge and with Second Avenue at the Pittsburgh Technology Center.

The Bates Street-Oakland addition was disclosed at recent neighborhood meetings sponsored by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, the state-related agency developing the expressway.

Combined, the three appendages for collecting and distributing traffic at the Pittsburgh end of the project would carry an average of 39,200 vehicles a day in 2009, when construction is to be finished and the whole highway would be open in Allegheny County.

"Bates Street is an option," said Rob Hilliard, an environmental manager for Mackin Engineering Co. of Moon, the consultant handling preliminary design work. "The question now becomes, 'Do the traffic benefits outweigh the [property] displacements?' "

Officials said the Bates Street-Oakland work, which would add $30 million to design, right of way and building costs, was considered at the request of city Councilman Sala Udin, who was concerned because original plans proposed no improvements to Bates and its widely known traffic problems.

"Now we have a Chevy and a Cadillac on the table," turnpike community involvement coordinator Tom Fox said. "The Chevy offers a two-pronged interchange" connecting to the Parkway East and Second Avenue, "while the Cadillac offers motorists a third choice and would improve overall traffic flow."

Some people at neighborhood meetings didn't want even a Chevy.

"We do not need more highways in this region," Fran Bertonaschi of Hazelwood told the turnpike commission at a gathering this month. "New roads promote sprawl, increase congestion and pollution and cost absurd amounts to build."

Jeffrey Sivek of Oakland asked officials to consider incorporating transit into plans and to preserve bike routes in the area.

Jerry Schwertz, executive vice president of Mackin, said engineers and turnpike officials would continue to tweak plans to cause as little disruption and neighborhood upheaval as possible. He said adding the Bates Street-Oakland exit and entry ramps to the Pittsburgh interchange "doesn't solve all the traffic problems in Oakland, but it will solve a lot, especially in the afternoon rush hours."

Once drivers reach Bates Street, not only would the lanes have more capacity but they would also generally be free-flowing to and from the Parkway East and Expressway.

Now, drivers heading to Oakland via Second Avenue make a sharp turn onto Bates Street, pass under a railroad trestle, encounter traffic coming off the Parkway East inbound and climb a hill to the Boulevard of the Allies.

Traffic projections for the three components of the Pittsburgh interchange, based on computer models, showed 10,600 vehicles a day would use the Bates Street-Oakland ramps, 19,600 would use the Parkway East ramps and 9,000 would get on and off at Second Avenue.

"If the community doesn't want the Bates Street ramps, they won't be built," Schwertz said. "They're still 10 years away."

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