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Transportation
New plans put forward for Route 28

Latest changes would save St. Nicholas, Millvale Industrial Park

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

By Joe Grata, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A new Route 28 in Pittsburgh could be an elevated, six-lane expressway sitting about 30 feet above the present highway.

A modified version could rebuild the old road at the present location and elevation, limit traffic to 40 mph and leaves the church with a 5-foot-wide sidewalk in front.

 
 
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In either case, signals would still be eliminated and diamond-shaped interchanges would be built at the 31st Street and 40th Street bridges, traffic choke points for more than 60,000 drivers a day.

The two alternatives to reconstruct a dangerous, two-mile stretch of Route 28 between the North Side and Millvale were disclosed yesterday.

Cost estimates range from $160 million to $200 million, saving not only St. Nicholas Church -- the first Croatian Roman Catholic parish in the United States -- but also Millvale Industrial Park, both of which abut the present four-lane road that serves as an extension of East Ohio Street.

Motorists aren't likely to see improvement soon to rush-hour traffic that flows slower than the ketchup made by Heinz Corp., whose Pittsburgh facilities also border the stretch.

A timetable released by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation shows three years of construction would not start before 2008.

And building a new intersection to eliminate traffic lights between Chestnut and East Streets to create nonstop traffic between Route 28 and I-279 or I-579 is a separate project.

PennDOT held the private meeting for public officials at the Department of Environmental Protection building on Washington Landing. A public open house will be held from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Boathouse on the one-time Herrs Island.

"There's a lot of work to do yet," said Tom Fox, PennDOT assistant executive for design. "A lot of decisions have to be made."

PennDOT is offering the new alternatives along with two old proposals that would eliminate St. Nicholas and the industrial park.

They came in response to controversy over the fate of St. Nicholas, scarring the hillside next to Route 28, taking houses on Troy Hill and building miles of monolithic concrete retaining walls to "shoehorn" the city end of what is also known as the Allegheny Valley Expressway into the tight corridor, with the steep hill on one side and Norfolk Southern Railway tracks on the other side.

"If the 31st Street and 40th Street bridges weren't there, this would be a piece of cake," PennDOT planning engineer Todd Kravits said.

No matter which alternative is advanced to final design and 80 percent federal funding, some things are the same or similar in all four of them:

About 80 houses would be acquired and razed, including those on the southern side of Eggers Street atop Troy Hill, since they would be left sitting too close to the edge of new hillside excavation.

Rialto Street and the intersection across from the 31st Street Bridge would be saved at the insistence of city officials and Troy Hill residents.

As many as two dozen business buildings would be razed, although federal law requires PennDOT take steps to re-establish them the same as relocating residents.

About 235 privately owned properties would be affected, wholly or in part, although most of them are vacant.

"Even if we didn't touch the hillside, people couldn't get to their homes [along the northern curb of Route 28]," said Justin Smith, project manager for Michael Baker Inc., PennDOT project consultant, because of federal requirements that when Route 28 is rebuilt, it must be rebuilt as a limited-access highway.

Under the two new alternatives, St. Nicholas Church and Millvale Industrial Park would get service roads leading from existing, local streets. A new parking lot would be built for St. Nicholas.

"The new alternatives are affordable, move traffic and save the church and industrial park," Fox noted, although the modified alternative "won't provide the high-speed access we envisioned" when Route 28 planning got under way years ago.

The alternative that proposes the elevated roadway in front of St. Nicholas was described as a modification of an idea suggested by Dr. George White, a retired civil engineering professor who chairs the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation's transportation committee.

He recommended building the northbound lanes entirely over the railroad tracks, and the southbound lanes on the existing Route 28, saving a strip of it as a local access road.

"PennDOT's bulldozer solution doesn't make sense," he said. "The air rights over the tracks present a handsome opportunity for an elevated highway that solves all of the problems of Route 28 without an ugly, two-mile retaining wall, undercutting foundations and taking the church."

PennDOT engineers said they proposed to incorporate White's idea by "bubbling out" the northbound lanes over the railroad in two areas near St. Nicholas and Millvale Industrial Park to save them. That alone, they said, will cost about $40 million extra.


Joe Grata can be reached at jgrata@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1985.

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