PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - The much-anticipated Southern Beltway opens today from I-79 to Pittsburgh International Airport.
The expectation for this road is huge for a lot of reasons and it will only partially open today at the interchange with I-79.
The Construction Engineering Manager for the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Steve Hrvoich, says the ramps to and from Allegheny County are not quite ready.
"We're still paving concrete on some of them," he says. "Roadside development backing up the shoulders, seeding, things like that drainage."
What has opened are the ramps to and from Washington County. The ramp onto Southbound 79 from the Southern Beltway opened late Friday morning, and the ramp from Washington County onto the new road heading towards the airport is open as well.
"The rest of the ramps are going to be in construction," says Hrvoich. "We're gonna open a couple more up later this year. And, then, the rest of them will be done in the spring."
The opening of the Southern Beltway will have an impact on other heavily-traveled roads.
I-79, Route 50, and the Parkway West are all expected to benefit even though the number of vehicles expected on the beltway each day is fairly low.
"We're hoping the estimates are about 15,000 vehicles that are going to use this," says PennDOT District 11 Executive Cheryl Moon-Sirianni.
With 111,000 drivers on I-79 going past the Beltway each day, and 91,000 using the Parkway West from 79 to the airport, Moon-Sirianni says the beltway will be a relief valve.
"Some of the traffic that that exists currently between Southpointe and the Parkway West hopefully will be reduced. A lot of that traffic does end up taking 79 to the Parkway West off towards Robinson," she says.
She says that could help relieve pinch points on the Parkway West.
"If we reduce that traffic by, you know 5,000 throughout the day, especially during the peak hours of a few 1,000; hopefully, it could make a significant reduction in some of those bottlenecks that exist," Moon-Sirianni says. "Like getting onto the Parkway West and out towards Robinson, there's always that bottleneck there by Campbells Run Road."
Expect that relief to come gradually as drivers discover the new route. It should pick up even more when the other ramps open between now and next spring.
The Southern Beltway was estimated at between $700 and $800 million coming out of the design phase, but the Turnpike's Special Projects Manager Matt Byrd says now, "It's going to be around $900 million."
The final price tag won't be known until the remaining ramps are opened.
Byrd says a project coming in over the estimate is no surprise.
"As time goes on and you bid these projects over time, the cost goes up through inflation and the rising cost of materials; and, in construction, we hit things we weren't expecting. Pickle liquor sludge had to be moved. That cost extra. Just run into things; the pandemic added some costs to it," he said.
Byrd says the contractor made all deadlines and has not faced any construction penalties.
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