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Hitting the brakes for Pittsburgh’s worst traffic nightmares

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For Pittsburgh newcomers, it’s the subtle beauty of the city’s geography that often makes the first impression. Rolling hills, a trio of rivers, more green space than the average American urban sprawl — all that good stuff.
Of course, those assets also help create another striking Steel City specialty: an infrastructure and road system that even the most veteran Parkway Name-Your-Direction drivers find vexing.
Getting around Pittsburgh isn’t easy. Those 446 bridges? Handy, as long as they’re open. McArdle Roadway? A nifty cruise to the top of Mt. Washington, barring a landslide. Route 28? OK, it’s tough to think of anything nice to say about PennDOT’s never-ending project.
Managing the city’s many navigation nightmares comes down to luck a lot of the time. A simple fender bender or a broken-down car en route to a tunnel can slow anyone thinking about ditching work early to beat the traffic.
These routes are well-known to natives, but for those new to the roads in Western Pa., here’s a look at some of Pittsburgh biggest offenders when it comes to traffic tie-ups.

 

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THE BRIDGE AND TUNNEL CROWD
What better place to start this tour of infamous logjams than the “entrance” of the city?
Listen to morning radio shows or steer a regular commuter into a chat about the roads and inevitably you’ll hear a version of the following: “Why do people slow down before tunnels!”
Funny thing about the Fort Pitt Tunnel, it’s not the drive through the chute that’s the trouble. It’s getting there.
The trek down Green Tree Hill is like a lesson in how gravity isn’t supposed to work. If you find yourself traveling the terminus of the Parkway West overnight, you might find yourself reaching a Millennium Falcon-level of warp speed when you break through the entrance to the tunnel. During rush hour? You may as well pull out a book or practice your best road rage gesture at the “Time to tunnel” sign.
If you’re heading outbound through the tunnel, it’s a different monster but just as frustrating.
Whether you’re coming from the opposing Fort Duquesne Bridge or Downtown, getting on the tunnel’s eponymous bridge is as much of a creep as the hill on the other side.
The outbound end is a slog for good reason, with a set of merges and drivers coming from the Fort Duquesne Bridge making lane changes to reach the tunnel. The trudge from Green Tree, though, is one of the mysteries of Pittsburgh. Once you reach the other side and that beautiful view of Downtown and the rivers, the first concern to stop gawking and rev up to avoid all of those speeding vehicles on the top deck of the bridge.
Wait, where did those come from?

 

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ALL SQUIRRELLY
Say you’ve made it down Green Tree Hill, through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, are darting across the bridge under a beautiful late afternoon sun, and you make the right toward the Parkway East and freedom.
Check those brakes.
A bottleneck just as frustrating as its tunnel twin is coming up fast: the Squirrel Hill Tunnel, gateway to Pittsburgh’s heavily populated eastern suburbs.
If you’re a Downtown commuter from Plum, Monroeville or Westmoreland County, you probably know this one very well. Like the Green Tree Hill journey, there aren’t many troublesome merges — the exits right before the tunnel can be a pain, however, especially if you’re getting on the Parkway. No, this one again seems to come down to a case of oh-my-goodness-it’s-a-tunnel-no-way-I-can-hit-this-at-normal-speed disease.
Of course, it doesn’t help that the Parkway East and the tunnel itself have been the subject of several PennDOT projects in recent years. Even weekends can be rough on this stretch if a lane is closed down.
The road also seems to be a magnet for crashes, which can push traffic into a standstill all the way to the shadow the bluff.

 

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PITTSBURGH’S WORST INTERSECTION?
Depending on where you live, there are plenty of different answers to the above question. The answer we’ll submit is one that, hopefully, can be scratched off the list soon enough.
Traffic on major artery Route 51 runs fairly smoothly from the West End Bridge — another gas-waster, if it’s after a big North Shore event — until the junction with Route 88, or Library Road.
Some of Pittsburgh’s oldest suburbs (read: oldest roads) are in the South Hills, and the windy, claustrophobic routes are at their worst at this intersection. Visit Google’s Streetview for an idea of the traffic buildups at this point — and specifically, the jungle of traffic lights covering. Along with than the Library Road linkup, two more roads meet here.
There’s hope, though.
A $19 million project is beginning that eliminate left turns from 51 to 88, replaced by a new “jug handle” for that  The extensive initiative is also widening 51 and nearby Provost Road and replacing a handful of structurally deficient bridges at the interchange.
It’s a lot to ask for, but by the end of the construction — which has already begun, with more intrusive phases coming soon — it should be a quicker ride to Baldwin, Whitehall, South Park and lands beyond.

 

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THE DOOZY
There’s a reason you see “I hate Route 28″ bumper stickers. And with the ubiquitous bumper-to-bumper rush-hour traffic, you can probably get an up-close view if you haven’t seen one.
But you might be seeing less of them.
Work is ongoing on a project to revamp the roadway along the north bank Allegheny River. When it’s complete, it’ll be a wider road and the stoplights will be a thing of past until you reach the route’s expressway terminus outside of Kittanning.
Of course, there’s no telling until it’s complete just how successful the project will be at alleviating some of the region’s worst traffic. After all, much of the road’s afternoon trouble comes right at the start. The on-ramp from East Ohio Street near the Heinz plant regularly backs up and slows the drivers coming from the North Shore.
Anything, however, is an improvement on the road’s former layout, and the changes already in place show promise.
Maybe there’s light at the end of this tunnel.

 

 

 

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