The possibility of a toll in the vicinity of Interstate 79’s Bridgeville interchange continues to draw disapproval.
Upper St. Clair has become the latest nearby municipality to express formal opposition. Township commissioners voted unanimously Monday to pass a resolution to that effect, joining Bridgeville Borough, Collier Township and South Fayette, where the interchange is located.
In addition, the South West Communities Chamber of Commerce has launched a petition that garnered almost 2,000 signatures in its first week, according to executive director Mandi Pryor. The opportunity to sign goes throughout April, before the petition is delivered to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation by the office of state Sen. Devlin Robinson, R-Bridgeville.
PennDOT’s plans for the interstate, though, involve more than potentially collecting money from motorists.
At the heart of what officially is called the I-79 Widening, Bridges and Bridgeville Interchange Reconfiguration is the bridge carrying the highway over Route 50, a structure that was built in 1965.
“That’s actually when I was ‘built,’” Cheryl Moon-Sirianni joked. “So it’s the same year as me and probably needs a lot of work.”
The district executive for PennDOT’s Engineering District 11 provided the levity during a media briefing in February outlining what the department has in store for the southern Allegheny County section of the heavily traveled interstate.
“This is a very congested and very popular route for traffic to take, so we don’t foresee traffic decreasing, moving forward, on this particular stretch of highway,” she said. “I don’t want to say it’s the fastest-growing in the region, but I know it has to be up there.”
Related improvements actually are scheduled to begin in the summer with a project to provide better access to and from Chartiers Street in Bridgeville.
“It’s one of the main connections over to Upper St. Clair and points east,” Moon-Sirianni said. “That is a very, very busy road, especially at rush hour.”
Plans call for widening the Route 50 bridge connecting South Fayette and Bridgeville to six-and-a-half lanes, including two specifically for turns.
“When you make a left off Chartiers or if you’re coming straight through Bridgeville,” Moon-Sirianni said, with regard to Route 50 motorists, “you’re going to have a dedicated lane to take you up onto 79. You’re not going to have to merge with all of that other traffic.”
For northbound Route 50 traffic, the bridge’s righthand lane will be solely for turns onto Chartiers Street.
As for improvements to the interstate, itself, PennDOT’s timetable anticipates construction starting “as early as 2023.”
“This project is really kind of in the infancy stages,” Moon-Sirianni said. “We’re just starting preliminary engineering.”
One component is to establish the highway as a consistent three lanes in each direction along the stretch from Cecil Township, where one terminus of the under-construction Southern Beltway will be located, north of I-79’s Heidelberg exit, formerly Kirwan Heights, in Collier.
“We’re doing it by widening into the middle lane, which is a huge savings both from an impact perspective and a right-of-way perspective,” Moon-Sirianni said. “The road is bifurcated a little bit through there, so in some areas you may have to build a little bit of a wall or some type of reinforced slope. But this saves significant dollars for construction of this project.”
At the Bridgeville interchange, a new ramp is planned to take southbound I-79 traffic directly onto Route 50 heading west. Under the current configuration, the off-ramp ends at a traffic light, a situation that frequently causes vehicles to stack up onto the highway.
The project also features lengthening on-ramps to allow for better conditions for merging.
Moon-Sirianni explained that although PennDOT officials would have liked to start work on I-79 earlier, funding was not available. The intention of the tolling concept, which also is being considered for nine other locations around the state, is to provide money for improvements in local areas.
“This is giving us an opportunity to advance the project, probably not in the exact time frame we all wanted,” she said. “We would obviously have liked this to be constructed at the same time that the Southern Beltway opens, but we still think it will be very helpful being a couple of years behind that.”
PennDOT’s I-79 project schedule calls for final design and right-of-way acquisition in 2022-23, “potential tolling” starting in 2023, and construction anticipated to begin in 2023-25. As far as where tolling would occur, PennDOT references “dual bridges within this greater I-79 project that are being evaluated as candidates.”
Also according to the department, officials are “As part of the environmental review process, PennDOT is analyzing how bridge tolling may impact local communities, including how alternate routes may impact local traffic and roadways.
“When studies are completed later in 2021, the project team will present our findings for public review and comment in a virtual meeting, or if safety precautions allow, an in-person public meeting. During the meeting, the team will also share project details, such as engineering design, environmental impacts, construction schedule and maintenance of traffic during construction.”
Regarding the overall effectiveness of PennDOT’s plans, Moon-Sirianni spoke candidly.
“I’m not going to tell you that this project comes in and wipes out all the problems that we have here at the Bridgeville interchange,” she said. “But we’re trying to improve as much as we can.”
For more information, visit www.penndot.gov/i79Bridgeville.