Campaign ad's false claim about gasoline tax increase

Written by Jon Schmitz on .

State Rep. Harry Readshaw is taking heat for a campaign ad that denounces the state’s new transportation funding bill. The ad says Mr. Readshaw opposed Gov. Tom Corbett’s “massive gas tax increase” that pays for Philadelphia transit. In truth, the gasoline tax restructuring that was part of the bill is paying for road and bridge improvements. Under the Pennsylvania Constitution, no revenue from gasoline taxes can go to public transit, so Mr. Readshaw’s ad is misinformed and misleading, to put it kindly. But the longtime lawmaker, who is opposed in the Democratic primary by Rep. Erin Molchany, is now clearly on the record as saying he thought our roads and bridges were just fine, and that he wouldn’t mind if Pittsburgh’s transit system underwent further deep service cuts.


Six spaces in Pittsburgh International Airport’s short-term parking garage have been marked for electric vehicle charging. These spaces are on the roof and second levels of the garage. Special green and white markings have been painted to identify the spaces. “Power Up” signs have  been hung above each of the spaces.


PennDOT is inviting the public to take a survey on transportation priorities and investments at as part of efforts to update the state’s long-range transportation plan and develop the state’s first comprehensive freight movement plan.


I’m unfamiliar with the section of the Motor Vehicle Code that allows delivery truck drivers to park wherever they want, including in traffic lanes and no-parking zones and on crosswalks. But it must be in there somewhere.


menatworkPennDOT District 10 expects today to announce plans for an emergency bridge repair project on northbound Interstate 79 north of Zelienople. The left lane has been closed since a truck hit a bridge girder in March, causing some pretty hefty backups. The escape route, for those who hate sitting in traffic, is to exit west at Little Creek Road and use Route 19 north to Portersville and a quick jog back to I-79. The bridge project is expected to begin in early May.

Lime Hollow Road in Penn Hills is closed from Coal Hollow Road to Frankstown Road until 4 p.m. today for repairs.

Drilling on Interstate 70 near the Bentleyville interchange will cause single-lane traffic next week starting at 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The affected area is between Bentleyville Road and Route 917. Work will conclude by 6 a.m. each day.

The westbound on- and off-ramps of the Pennsylvania Turnpike at Monroeville will be restricted during pavement repair work tonight. The ramps will have alternating traffic controlled by flaggers from 9 p.m. today to 2 a.m. Thursday.

The bridge that carries Bedford Avenue over Interstate 579-Crosstown Boulevard in Downtown Pittsburgh will have lane closures todaythu and Friday for inspection. The restrictions will be in place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. both days. Traffic will be shifted on Bigelow Boulevard and the ramp from Bigelow to northbound I-579 during the same hours.

Sidewalk improvements may cause right-lane closures on Ingomar Road between Harmony Drive and Bellcrest Avenue in McCandless from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays through May 2. An alternating one-way pattern may be implemented at times in the area.

A wall collapse has closed Riverview Avenue between Roosevelt and Division avenues in Bellevue until further notice.


The off-ramp from inbound Route 65 to Beaver Avenue will be closed after the split for California Avenue at 8 p.m. daily through Friday. Traffic will be detoured using the ramp to California Avenue and Marshall Avenue. The restriction will be lifted by 6 a.m. daily. Also, bridge inspection may cause Route 65 lane closures in both directions between Millerton Avenue and the McKees Rocks Bridge through 3 p.m. today.

Lane closures are possible on Route 28 in East Deer during bridge washing from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Friday. Lane closures also will occur on Crawford Run and Baileys Run roads under the Route 28 bridges.

Work on overhead signs may cause lane closures on all three parkways in the area of Downtown Pittsburgh out to Green Tree and Second Avenue after 10 p.m. weeknights through May 2. Restrictions will be lifted by 6 a.m. daily.

Overnight single-lane closures are scheduled on Connor and Gilkeson roads near Route 19 in Mt. Lebanon, and on Route 19 from Connor to Cochran roads, from 7 p.m. today through 6 a.m. Thursday for line painting on rumble strip installation.

A northbound lane closure is possible on Route 51 between Stewart Avenue and Maytide Street in Overbrook from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily through Friday as crews work on utility lines.

The Fort Pitt Tunnels will have overnight single-lane traffic in both directions starting at 10 p.m. today and Thursday for cleaning and maintenance. Tonight’s restrictions won’t start until an hour after the end of the Pirates game. Lanes reopen by 5 a.m. daily.

A lane has closed on eastbound Route 30 at the bridge over Electric Avenue in North Braddock as crews apply sealant. The restriction is scheduled to end at 5 p.m. Friday. No westbound restrictions.

Replacement of a bridge on Saxonburg Boulevard in Indiana Township has begun, closing the road between Francioni Lane and Klein Road through June 20. The posted detour uses Harts Run Road and Route 8.


Single-lane traffic on southbound Route 8 is underway from Krebs Drive to Applewood Drive in Richland from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through Friday. No northbound restrictions.

A reconstruction project has reduced Interstate 80 in Jefferson County to one lane in both directions between Reynoldsville (Exit 86) and Falls Creek (Exit 97). The restriction will remain in place into November.

Coming Monday: Northbound Route 885-Lebanon Road will be closed at the intersection with Lebanon Church Road at 6 a.m. for replacement of the bridge over the Union Railroad tracks. Southbound traffic will be shifted to the northbound side of the bridge; northbound traffic will be detoured. The overall project continues through April 2015.


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Bike escalators for Pittsburgh hills?

Written by Jon Schmitz on .



The Atlantic Cities reports on an innovation that could literally give bicyclists a lift over hilly terrain:

CycloCable works very much like a ski lift. But most of the design structures are placed just below the street surface for a safer and more seamless integration into the road.

To begin, you just push the green button at the “start station” and wait for the first footplate. You then stand up on your bike and put your right foot and all of your weight on the footplate. The launcher at the start station will give you gentle push to accelerate from zero to 1.5 meters per second. The lift can go up to 2 meters per second, handling a maximum of 300 cyclists per hour. It supports inclines of up to 18 percent grade and can extend as long as 1,640 feet.

The first prototype was installed in Trondheim, Norway, in 1993. Since then, it’s become a popular tourist attraction that’s powered more than 200,000 cyclists up a 130-meter hill, with no accidents recorded. The original lift was dismantled in 2012, and replaced a year later with CycloCable, an industrialized version upgraded to meet new safety standards.

Now, POMA Group, the French cableway company behind the CycloCable, wants to sell the idea to other cities around the world.

Pittsburgh has also considered the lift. According to Stephen Patchan, bicycle/pedestrian coordinator at Pittsburgh’s Department of City Planning, the cycling community sees the steep terrain as an amenity, not a challenge. But Patchan says it would still be nice to have that kind of assistance for people tired at the end of the day, for example.

A Pittsburgh nonprofit even proposed a bike lift modeled after the one in Trondheim several years ago. But the idea generated some initial questions about liability and wasn’t pursued further.

This time around, liability would still be the primary concern, but not one that can’t be overcome.

Patchan is confident that the cost-benefit of implementing something like CycloCable will be more acceptable as U.S. bike infrastructure systems continue to mature.

“It only takes one smart and cavalier community to figure it out and establish a model for operations and maintenance,” he says.


In another boost for bicyclists, the state Senate has passed legislation to legalize pedal-assist electric bicycles.

Sponsor Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, issued this statement:

“Our goal is to modernize state law and pave the way for innovation. There are already a growing number of small businesses emerging to meet the demand for this transportation option. However, the continued growth of this industry relies on clearly defining and legalizing these bikes in the state code.

“As we encourage multi-modal forms of transportation, these bicycles offer another option for individuals with mobility issues or for the commuter tackling the hills of western Pennsylvania. I think there are more and more people who will reconsider cycling as a transportation option once they learn about pedal-assist electric bicycles.”

The bill, which goes to the House, defines the bicycles as having operable pedals and a motor of 1 horsepower or less, with a maximum 20 mph speed. The bikes are not motor scooters but are designed to assist the rider with pedaling.


And still more two-wheeler news, this from Friends of the Riverfront:

The 2014 Three Rivers Heritage Trail Map & Guide was released today. The map has been updated to include the one-mile segment of trail that will connect Aspinwall Riverfront Park to O’Hara through the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority, currently under development. This map is ideal for trail users interested in exploring the Pittsburgh region on the 24-mile riverfront trail system and features an overview of the trail system and detailed maps of the North Side, Downtown and South Side segments.
Areas of interest, including business districts, green space, bike shops, cultural attractions, transportation, trail parking and dog parks can also be found.
This project was funded by ProBikes, Clearview Federal Credit Union, Eat’n Park, UPMC Sports Medicine, the EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta, Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, and Friends of the Riverfront members.
The Three Rivers Heritage Trail Map is available free. To request a copy, call 412-488-0212 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . The map can also be found on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail page at



This week is National Work Zone Awareness Week, and Pennsylvania officials are cautioning drivers that they will encounter more construction than usual this year, as the new transportation funding law ramps up spending by $600 million, to a total of $2.1 billion.

“We are asking drivers to use extra caution in work zones so all of us can get home safely,” said Brad Mallory, PennDOT executive deputy secretary. “With crews working right next to moving traffic, it’s especially dangerous and especially important that motorists obey signs and speed limits.”

According to PennDOT data, there were more than 1,800 crashes in Pennsylvania work zones last year, an increase of about 200 from the previous year.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike will conduct Operation Orange Squeeze, in which troopers stationed in construction trucks use radar to nab speeders. Fines are doubled in work zones, so offenders can kiss several hundred dollars goodbye.

“The State Police will have zero tolerance for unsafe and aggressive work-zone driving.” said Capt. Gregory M. Bacher, commander of Pennsylvania State Police Troop T, the unit in charge of turnpike patrols.

The turnpike plans 62 roadway and bridge construction projects for 2014 at a $1.3 billion cost.


From the PG’s Liz Navratil, a police training exercise at the ballpark:

Traffic near PNC Park will be restricted Tuesday while Pittsburgh emergency responders and federal officials conduct a training exercise.

Mazeroski Way from General Robinson Street to North Shore Drive will be closed from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., and parking there will not be allowed, city public safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler said in a news release. Only local traffic will be allowed on North Shore Drive, at Tony Dorsett Drive, she said.

The city’s Office of Emergency Management, Homeland Security, the Army National Guard, the Ohio State Civil Support Team and PNC Park officials will be training for a hypothetical scenario in which suspicious packages are reported during a World Series game.


Carnegie Mellon University’s spring carnival will cause road closures and parking restrictions in the area of the campus this weekend. Margaret Morrison Street, Tech Street, Frew Street, Circuit Road and Schenley Drive (Panther Hollow and Schenley bridges included) will be closed from 5 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday. Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens will remain open during normal hours. Visitors will need to park on the streets by the Carnegie Library and the surrounding area. Pittsburgh police stationed at barricades will give bus drivers instructions for passenger unloading.

On-campus parking will be limited for those without permits and other visitors all week. Additional parking will be available for $5 (cash only) from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday at the Bob O’Connor Golf Course at Schenley Park, with shuttles running to and from campus. Free parking will be available at East Campus Garage on a first-come, first-served basis on Saturday.


menatworkThe city will pave the section of McArdle Roadway from from the Liberty Bridge to Arlington Avenue starting at 11 p.m Tuesday and ending by 5:30 a.m Wednesday. Traffic from the inbound Liberty Tunnel will be detoured across the Liberty Bridge and traffic from Arlington Avenue will not be able to access the affected section of McArdle Roadway.

Lane closures are possible on outbound Route 51 between Fairhaven Road and Stewart Avenue in Overbrook and Whitehall from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. today through Friday. Cable crews will be installing lines in the area.

Overhead sign improvements will cause intermittent lane closures on the Parkway East after 10 p.m. on weeknights in both directions between the Squirrel Hill Tunnels and Second Avenue, through April 19.

A lane closure is possible on the inbound Parkway North in Ross from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. today through Wednesday for emergency repair of a washout.

Bridge construction has changed the traffic pattern on Interstate 79 at Route 422 in Butler County. Southbound traffic now crosses over to the northbound side, with one lane open in both directions. Work and restrictions will continue into the fall.
Cleaning in the Liberty Tunnels will close a lane in both directions starting at 10 p.m. today through Thursday. Traffic is restored by 5 a.m. daily.

Center Road in Plum reopened Friday afternoon after being closed since March 25 because of a collapse.

Hunter Road in Penn Hills has been closed between Barger Street and Colorado Street for about four weeks for emergency repairs.

Overnight lane closures have begun on Route 8 in Hampton. Traffic is down to one lane in both directions after 8 p.m. weeknights from the Pennsylvania Turnpike interchange to about 1,000 feet north of Hardies Road. The widening and turn-lane project continues through October.

A section of McKee Road in North Fayette and the Route 22/30 ramps at Oakdale have closed for reconstruction. The closure of McKee Road in the area under the Route 22/30 bridge will continue through April 26.

Alternating one-way traffic is in effect on Snowden Road in South Park between Riggs and Cochran Mill roads from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily through May 17 during utility pole relocation.

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Bad winter, bad forecasting

Written by Jon Schmitz on .


In the fervent hope that the final snowflakes of the season have drifted to the ground, we offer a last look at the accuracy of the long-range winter weather forecasts offered by the three Pittsburgh TV meteorologists last fall.

It was a bad winter for all of us. The snow and howling winds left all our faces red. But for KDKA’s Jeff Verszyla, the shade of red might have been slightly brighter. Here’s what he said on the last day of October:

“Last year, we finished the season with just over 57 inches, which was way above the seasonal average of 41 inches. This year, we won’t approach last year’s total.”

He then served up a prediction that 32 inches would fall for the entire season. The actual total through Wednesday: 62.5 inches. Juuust a bit outside.

WTAE’s Mike Harvey and WPXI’s Stephen Cropper did better, but not by a lot. Neither came very close to foreseeing the above-average snowfalls that fell from December through February; both overguessed what would fall in March.

The breakdown (with actual snowfall totals in parentheses):

Harvey -- December, 8 inches (15); January, 15 (17.9); February, 13 (16.1); March, 9 (4.1).

Cropper -- December, 10 inches (15); January, 12 (17.9); February, 12 (16.1); March, 8 (4.1).

None of the three came close to accurately forecasting the bitter cold that gripped us after Jan. 1.

Verszyla and Cropper said February would be the coldest month (wrong, it was January); Harvey said monthly average temperatures would be from 0.5 to 1 degree below normal (way wrong, the average was 6.3 degrees below normal in January, 5.4 in February and 4.9 so far in March).

So maybe it was an off-year for our weather seers. Or maybe they should just acknowledge that long-range winter forecasts are little more than guesswork designed to build ratings.

One final note: These guys were slam-dunked by the Farmer’s Almanac (and legendary forecaster “Caleb Weatherbee”) and the Old Farmer’s Almanac, both of which warned us it would be colder and snowier than normal.


With the Pennsylvania Legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett having stepped up to improve the state’s transportation system, it would be a shame if they were undercut by the gridlocked Congress, which has not come up with a plan to rescue the Highway Trust Fund, the principal source of revenue for federally supported projects. It is projected to run out of money this summer.

AASHTO, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, projects that 6,000 U.S. construction projects could be halted if the fund runs dry. It has produced an interesting slideshow about what’s at stake, which can be seen here.

The trust fund has lost more than half of its purchasing power since 1990 because of inflation (the federal gasoline tax is NOT indexed to inflation and hasn’t been raised since 1993), cars that burn less fuel and a decline in driving during the economic slump.

It will be interesting to see if U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, can help pave the way to an adequate funding solution before the current transportation law expires at the end of September. So far, Mr. Shuster has told us he thinks transportation infrastructure is important, and that fiscal discipline is important, but has yet to offer much in the way of details.


Bridge replacement will begin on Lebanon Road in West Mifflin on Thursday. You think this bridge maybe needs it?


The $4.6 million project will replace the bridge over the Union Railroad tracks between Lebanon Church Road and Noble Drive. Two-way traffic will be maintained with intermittent stoppages. The work is scheduled for completion in April 2015.

The right lane of outbound Route 65 will be closed at the Interstate 279 split on the North Side from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday during bridge inspection.

One outbound lane will close on Route 28, at the bridge that carries a Freeport Road ramp over the highway in O'Hara, from 9 p.m. Thursday to 2 a.m Friday during inspections.

Also, inbound Route 28 will be closed overnight at the 31st Street Bridge starting at 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Traffic will be pushed across the bridge to Penn Avenue and on to the 16th Street Bridge to recross the river. The closure will end by 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday and 5 a.m. Monday. Crews will install utility hole covers. Also, single-lane traffic will occur on inbound Route 28 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday between the 31st Street Bridge and the East Ohio Street off-ramp.

Early reminder that North Shore lots will be closed to commuters on Monday and Thursday next week, when the Pirates play day games against the Chicago Cubs.

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No surprise here: Bad driving blamed in turnpike pileup

Written by Jon Schmitz on .



The pileup of dozens of cars and trucks on the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Philadelphia on Feb. 14 was caused by weird weather and bad driving, state police have concluded.

“I believe human error played a large factor in this,” said Lt. Col. George Bivens, deputy commissioner of operations, at a hearing today. Weather conditions were changing at the time of the pileup but “we had a number of drivers who did not compensate for those changing conditions,” he told the state Senate Transportation Committee.

There were 41 separate crashes on a stretch of the turnpike west of Philadelphia. The first involved 15 vehicles including four tractor-trailers; the others came as people approaching the crash scene hit their brakes. Police cited 52 drivers, mostly for going too fast for conditions.

“We’re our own worst enemy,” said Sen. Jim Brewster, D-McKeesport.

“A lot of this is human error … People are crazy,” said Sen. John Wozniak, D-Johnstown.

Two hours before the crash, the Pennsylvania Turnpike had lifted a 45 mph speed limit imposed during a snowstorm. Turnpike CEO Mark Compton said in spite of that, the average speed of traffic around the time of the pileup was 45 mph.

Road crews were on the job and the turnpike had been heavily salted after 4 to 5 inches of snow fell between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. The skies had cleared and drivers were dealing with sun glare when all hell broke loose. It took hours to clear the wreckage and reopen the turnpike but no one was killed.


With Congress terrified to raise gasoline taxes or come up with some other source of badly needed transportation funding, some advocates are pushing for an end to restrictions on tolling existing interstate highways.

The federal gasoline tax, a flat 18.4 cents per gallon, hasn't been raised since 1993. It doesn’t grow with inflation, so its value has fallen by 40 percent since then, according to a computation by The New York Times. If you’ve enjoyed your effective 40 percent gasoline tax reduction, you also might be noticing the decay of the nation’s highways and bridges. The federal Highway Trust Fund is nearly broke.

The International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (aka the toll road industry), meeting in Washington, D.C., this week, assembled transportation officials and leaders from across the country to urge Congress to let states solve their own funding problems with tolls.

Among those in the chorus was former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, who said:

“With transportation funding shortfalls at all levels of government, and traditional sources of funding no longer keeping pace with growing needs, it is important that Congress no longer tie the hands of governors as they seek to meet their transportation challenges. It is time for Congress to finally lift all federal restrictions on tolling existing interstates.”


menatworkThe Pennsylvania Turnpike is scheduled to be closed to traffic in both directions between Allegheny Valley and Butler Valley from 11:59 p.m. Saturday to 6 a.m. Monday, a closure that was called off last weekend because of the weather. It will allow removal of beams from a Route 910 bridge that crosses the pike.

Also in the wee hours of Sunday, the entrance and exit ramps at Beaver Valley (Exit 13) will be closed, along with part of Route 18. Traffic will be redirected to Exit 10 at New Castle from 11:59 p.m. Saturday to 4 a.m. Sunday. The closure will allow crews to set the bridge that carries the interchange ramps over Route 18, part of the future Beaver River Bridge replacement project.

Inspection of overhead signs will cause a lane closure on the outbound Liberty Bridge from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday, and on the inbound Birmingham Bridge from noon to 3 p.m.

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Long-range winter weather flubcasts

Written by Jon Schmitz on .


snowglobe“This winter will be memorable for prolonged bitter cold and snowstorms so frequent that many communities will run out of rock salt.”

Do you remember which local TV weather forecaster said that in his long-range winter forecast last fall?

The answer: none of them.

Every year, the TV stations hype their meteorologists’ long-range winter forecasts, hoping we’ll tune in and then quickly forget their predictions. We decided to keep score this year.

Every inch of snow that falls will further bury those forecasts in disgrace. KDKA’s Jeff Verszyla, WPXI’s Stephen Cropper and WTAE’s Mike Harvey didn’t come close to guessing what this winter would bring.

As of the end of February, Mr. Harvey leads the trio in accuracy for his snowfall prediction, which is to say he missed it by only 20.4 inches. He guessed 38 inches would fall before March 1 — actual snowfall was 58.4 inches.

Mr. Cropper told us we’d have 33.5 inches through the end of February. Mr. Verszyla’s dart missed the board entirely, with a forecast of 26 inches through February, or less than half of what actually came down.

Mr. Verszyla said we’d get only 32 inches for the entire winter; counting the weekend’s snowfall, we’re at 60.8 inches for the season.

Mr. Harvey told us the average February temperature would be 1 degree below normal. He’s getting colder … colder. The actual average was 5.4 degrees below normal.

Mr. Verszyla said February temperatures would “nosedive below normal,” and Mr. Cropper said it would be the “coldest month.” Not exactly going out on a limb there, but Mr. Cropper even got that wrong: January’s average temperature of 22.1 degrees was 3.6 degrees colder than February’s average.

Our forecast: These gentlemen will be back in the fall with another round of shameless, self-promoting long-term forecasts. Viewers should take them with a truckload of salt.


Excellent, chilling report by The New York Times looks back (with video) at the I-35W Bridge collapse in Minnesota in 2007 and how little the U.S. has done since then to address declining infrastructure. See it here.


The average price of a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline in Pittsburgh has risen by 14.4 cents per gallon in the past month, to $3.651, according to That’s 20.6 cents above the national average but still 18.4 cents cheaper than the average price here a year ago. Gasoline prices are another thing that “experts” like to forecast well in advance, with mixed success.


menatworkWe can state with utter certitude that Daylight-Saving Time begins this weekend, with clocks advancing by an hour at 2 a.m. Sunday. We are reasonably sure that the Pennsylvania Turnpike will be closed in both directions between Butler Valley (Exit 39) and Allegheny Valley (Exit 48) from 11:59 p.m. Saturday until 6 a.m. Sunday. Crews will remove overhead bridge beams at Route 910. The turnpike planned the closure for last weekend, but bailed because of the snow forecast. Traffic will be detoured via Routes 8, 28 and 910 and Freeport Road.

Pothole patching will cause lane closures on southbound Interstate 79 from Route 19 to Route 910 in Marshall from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday.

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