$142M grant secured for Parkway East, MLK Jr. Busway safety improvements

PITTSBURGH — U.S. Congresswoman Summer Lee and Senators Bob Casey and John Fetterman announced Monday that they’ve secured $142,342,200 in funding to make major safety improvements to the Parkway East and the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway.

The project will make significant progress to improve congestion and safety hazards for the 100,000 daily drivers on the Parkway East.

Previous coverage: Major changes possible for Parkway East, including safety upgrades and improving traffic flow

The Parkway East was rated as the fifth most congested road in the United States, according to a 2019 study by INRIX Inc.

With about 100,000 cars making their way across Pittsburgh’s Parkway East every day, many drivers are often tangled up in traffic.

“It’s just always, I mean, it’s always a lot of traffic backup,” said Debrena Potter of Rankin.

Upgrades included in the project are:

  • Repave portions of the MLK Jr. East Busway
  • Improve busway drainage
  • Repair or replace 10 bridges along the busway
  • Allow for buses to run along the hard shoulder of the parkway, improving travel times
  • New technology along the Parkway to improve safety and reduce congestion
  • This includes variable speed limits (depending on traffic flow), wrong-way detection systems, and dynamic messaging boards
  • Raising the flood wall along the Monongahela River to better protect the Parkway from flooding between Grant Street and the Ft. Pitt Bridge in Downtown Pittsburgh (eliminating the “Bathtub” that happens during heavy storms)

A 2019 study named the Parkway East as one of the most congested highways in the nation.  It’s also one of Allegheny County’s most heavily traveled roadways.

Steve McMannis of Marshall-Shadeland drives on the highway every day for work.

“It’s always a little chaotic, just trying to merge sometimes, deal with the tunnels, weather dependent,” McMannis said.

Now, some major upgrades to the busy thoroughfare could help ease some of the congestion and improve traffic flow from Monroeville to downtown.

“That’d be great,” said  McMannis. “That’d be a win for everybody. We’re all spending so much in fuel just sitting in line, and I think it’d be a positive for the city.”

Sen. Casey said the improvements will ease traffic while also making the highway safer.

“This is a very busy corridor, and we want to do everything we can to make an investment that’s about efficiency and also about safety,” he said.

Part of the federal funding will go toward new technology including variable speed limits, dynamic messaging boards,  and wrong-way driving detection systems.

“Technology upgrades to the Parkway East will give drivers better insight into how bad traffic is and whether taking the bus would be more efficient, so this would get cars off the road and people to their destinations faster,” said Casey.

A total of 10 bridges along the MLK Jr. Busway, which are only for buses, will either be repaired or replaced. Drainage along the busway will also be improved and portions of the East Busway will be repaved.

Additionally, the so-called “Bathtub” that floods part of the parkway downtown during heavy storms, will be drained after the floodwall along the Monongahela River is raised.

“I hope they do it,” McMannis said. “I’m a contractor, so everybody wins when we build stuff here.”

Driver Debrena Potter is hopeful the traffic nightmares can become somewhat less of a headache.

“Hopefully things will get a little better [now] that they got all this money to get the ball rolling,” Potter said.

The upgrades are also expected to create more than 2,500 construction jobs.

There’s no timeframe yet on when construction will start. Sen. Casey said the money will be funneled through PennDOT, and once that’s locked in place, the planning will begin for the improvements.

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