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On transportation, candidate Wolf steers to low road

Written by Jon Schmitz on .

The transportation funding bill enacted by the Pennsylvania Legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett last fall was a shining example of bipartisanship at a time of polarization and gridlock in our political system.

If he becomes governor, Tom Wolf is going to need bipartisanship if he wants to get anything done. But Mr. Wolf has elected to take a shot at Mr. Corbett’s support of the transportation bill in a TV commercial.

“Corbett raised your gas taxes through the roof,” Mr. Wolf says as a graphic appears saying “Gas prices going up 28 cents a gallon.”

Some context: By eliminating a loophole, the legislation caused the gas tax to rise by 9.5 cents on Jan. 1. It is projected to cause an overall increase of 28 cents over a five-year period. To say that “Corbett raised your gas taxes through the roof” is, at best, shading the truth. The governor signed a bill that had broad support among Democrats and Republicans, not to mention business, labor, environmental groups, transit and bike-pedestrian advocates and countless other civic organizations.

Implicit in Mr. Wolf’s criticism is that he doesn’t support the transportation bill, which could be construed to mean he thinks our roads and bridges were in dandy shape and that public transit systems should continue to slash service and raise fares to cope with their financial problems.

Mr. Corbett’s campaign has pointed out that the commercial came on the heels of this comment from Mr. Wolf during a public appearance: “I applaud the Legislature and the governor for actually coming through, coming up with a transportation plan that actually allows us to fix our bridges and actually move our transportation infrastructure forward.”

As the campaign continues, we’ll see if Mr. Wolf’s applause is the one-handed variety.

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menatworkNorth Pioneer Road will be closed at the intersection of West Hardies Road in Hampton from 8 p.m. today through 5 a.m. Monday for widening and resurfacing that is part of the Route 8-Hardies Road improvement project. The closure of West Hardies Road is projected to continue through Aug. 30.

Work on Elizabeth Mon City Road in Forward will cause intermittent closures between William Penn Road and Williamsport Road. The work will require the use of one lane of the road, with flaggers directing traffic through the open lane. Full closures of up to 15 minutes may be necessary. Work occurs from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays through Aug. 22.

Move-in day for first-year students at Carnegie Mellon University will cause street closures in Oakland from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. The closures: 5100 block of Margaret Morrison Street, between Forbes Avenue and Tech Street; 100 block of Tech Street, between Margaret Morrison Street and Schenley Drive; 1000 block of Morewood Avenue between Fifth and Forbes avenues. Fifth Avenue congestion is likely at the campus, and officials recommend avoiding it if possible.

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Relief in sight for bus riders; 2 more tunnel closures on horizon

Written by Jon Schmitz on .

Breathing room on the bus?

Relief may be on the way for riders on several overcrowded Port Authority bus routes. As we reported in print today, schedule changes will take effect Aug. 31 on 22 routes, including added trips on 51 Carrick and the 61ABCD routes and extensions to the 75 Ellsworth and 93 Lawrenceville-Oakland routes. The story is here and more details can be found at www.portauthority.org.

 

Tunnel vision

The Mount Washington Transit Tunnel is scheduled to close from about 11 p.m. Friday until 11 a.m. Saturday for ventilation work, causing detours of bus and rail service. Rail service will use the old Allentown line and a shuttle will operate between Station Square and First Avenue. Inbound buses will go through Allentown and outbound service will use the Wabash Tunnel.

UPDATE: The transit tunnel will close again from the start of service on Sunday until 1 p.m., with the same detours in effect. The outbound Red Line will be detoured from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday during work south of South Hills Junction. Red Line vehicles will follow the Blue Line route from the junction to Willow, with bus shuttles operating along the closed portion of the Red Line. Delays are likely.

The final closure of the outbound Squirrel Hill Tunnel is likely to occur on the weekend of Aug. 22-25.

 

Road work updates

menatworkNight owls will find single-lane restrictions of the entire length of Interstate 376 in Allegheny County tonight through Aug. 22 as crews install pavement reflectors. The work will occur from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. starting on the Parkway East and moving to the Parkway West.

Continuing reconstruction will cause a closure of the intersection of Swallow Hill Road and Lindsay Road in Scott this weekend. It is scheduled to begin at about 6 p.m. Friday and continue until 6 a.m. Monday. Port Authority buses will not travel on Swallow Hill from Greentree Road to Lindsay during the closure.

Lane closures are possible from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday on the approaches to the lower deck of the Fort Duquesne Bridge. Inspectors will be looking things over.

The inbound Liberty Tunnel is scheduled to reopen at 6 a.m. Friday, Aug. 22. Having viewed the freshly painted white walls in the outbound tunnel, we’re thinking gray might have been a better choice.

Water line work will restrict traffic on Smithfield Street from First Avenue to Fort Pitt Boulevard in Downtown Pittsburgh from 7 tonight to about 3 a.m. Wednesday.

Removal of rocks and debris from a hillside will close the right lane on inbound Route 28 near the Route 910 interchange from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through Friday.

Inspection of the outbound Fort Pitt Tunnel is scheduled to restrict traffic to a single lane from 10 p.m. today to 5 a.m. Wednesday, but PennDOT typically delays the start until PNC Park traffic subsides.

Milling and resurfacing has begun on East 10th Avenue in Tarentum and Brackenridge, causing alternating one-way traffic from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. on weeknights through mid-November. Some Saturday nights also will see work. The project extends from Lock Street in Tarentum to Horner Street in Brackenridge and is one of those that wouldn’t have happened without Act 89, the transportation funding measure that the Legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett approved last fall.

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Congress: Riding on four flat tires

Written by Jon Schmitz on .

Today, we'll devote some time to the shameful inaction of Congress on adequately funding the nation's transportation infrastructure.

We start with a letter signed by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and 11 predecessors urging Congress to get off its collective duffs and do something. It was part of this release from DOT on Monday.

WASHINGTON – As Congress considers legislation to avoid a shortfall of the Highway Trust Fund, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and 11 of his predecessors offered the following open letter to Congress. In addition to Secretary Foxx, Secretaries Ray LaHood, Mary Peters, Norman Mineta, Rodney Slater, Federico Peña, Samuel Skinner, Andrew Card, James Burnley, Elizabeth Dole, William Coleman and Alan Boyd all signed the letter. Their message: Congress’ work doesn’t end with the bill under consideration. Transportation in America still needs a much larger, longer-term investment.  The text of the letter is below:

This week, it appears that Congress will act to stave off the looming insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund. The bill, if passed, should extend surface transportation funding until next May.

We are hopeful that Congress appears willing to avert the immediate crisis.  But we want to be clear: This bill will not “fix” America’s transportation system. For that, we need a much larger and longer-term investment.  On this, all twelve of us agree.

Taken together, we have led the U.S. Department of Transportation for over 35 years. One of us was there on day one, at its founding. We’ve served seven presidents, both Republicans and Democrats, including Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

Suffice it to say, we’ve been around the block.  We probably helped pave it.

So it is with some knowledge and experience that we can write:  Never in our nation’s history has America’s transportation system been on a more unsustainable course.

In recent years, Congress has largely funded transportation in fits and starts.  Federal funding bills once sustained our transportation system for up to six years, but over the past five years, Congress has passed 27 short-term measures. Today, we are more than a decade past the last six-year funding measure.

This is no way to run a railroad, fill a pothole, or repair a bridge. In fact, the unpredictability about when, or if, funding will come has caused states to delay or cancel projects altogether.

The result has been an enormous infrastructure deficit – a nationwide backlog of repairing and rebuilding. Right now, there are so many structurally deficient bridges in America that, if you lined them up end-to-end, they’d stretch from Boston to Miami.  What’s worse, the American people are paying for this inaction in a number of ways.

Bad roads, for example, are costing individual drivers hundreds of dollars a year due to side effects like extra wear-and-tear on their vehicles and time spent in traffic.

Simply put, the United States of America is in a united state of disrepair, a crisis made worse by the fact that, over the next generation, more will be demanded of our transportation system than ever before.  By 2050, this country will be home to up to 100 million new people.  And we’ll have to move 14 billion additional tons of freight, almost twice what we move now.

Without increasing investment in transportation, we won’t be able to meet these challenges. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, we need to invest $1.8 trillion by 2020 just to bring our surface transportation infrastructure to an adequate level.

So, what America needs is to break this cycle of governing crisis-to-crisis, only to enact a stopgap measure at the last moment. We need to make a commitment to the American people and the American economy.

There is hope on this front.  Some leaders in Washington, including those at the U.S. Department of Transportation, are stepping forward with ideas for paying for our roads, rails, and transit systems for the long-term.

While we – the twelve transportation secretaries – may differ on the details of these proposals, there is one essential goal with which all twelve of us agree:  We cannot continue funding our transportation with measures that are short-term and short of the funding we need.

On this, we are of one mind. And Congress should be, too.

Adequately funding our transportation system won’t be an easy task for our nation’s lawmakers. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Consensus has been brokered before.

Until recently, Congress understood that, as America grows, so must our investments in transportation.  And for more than half a century, they voted for that principle – and increased funding – with broad, bipartisan majorities in both houses.

We believe they can, and should, do so again.

Here's a report from The Fiscal Times summarizing the latest dithering, maneuvering and gimmickry that Congress is engaging in as the federal transportation program hangs on the brink of insolvency.

Reuters reports that the Senate is preparing to vote on a convoluted proposal to kick the can to next May.

And here's Jon Stewart's take on the whole situation from last week's "The Daily Show." 

WASHINGTON – As Congress considers legislation to avoid a shortfall of the Highway Trust Fund, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and 11 of his predecessors offered the following open letter to Congress. In addition to Secretary Foxx, Secretaries Ray LaHood, Mary Peters, Norman Mineta, Rodney Slater, Federico Peña, Samuel Skinner, Andrew Card, James Burnley, Elizabeth Dole, William Coleman and Alan Boyd all signed the letter. Their message: Congress’ work doesn’t end with the bill under consideration. Transportation in America still needs a much larger, longer-term investment.  The text of the letter is below:

This week, it appears that Congress will act to stave off the looming insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund. The bill, if passed, should extend surface transportation funding until next May.

We are hopeful that Congress appears willing to avert the immediate crisis.  But we want to be clear: This bill will not “fix” America’s transportation system. For that, we need a much larger and longer-term investment.  On this, all twelve of us agree.

Taken together, we have led the U.S. Department of Transportation for over 35 years. One of us was there on day one, at its founding. We’ve served seven presidents, both Republicans and Democrats, including Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

Suffice it to say, we’ve been around the block.  We probably helped pave it. 

So it is with some knowledge and experience that we can write:  Never in our nation’s history has America’s transportation system been on a more unsustainable course.

In recent years, Congress has largely funded transportation in fits and starts.  Federal funding bills once sustained our transportation system for up to six years, but over the past five years, Congress has passed 27 short-term measures. Today, we are more than a decade past the last six-year funding measure.

This is no way to run a railroad, fill a pothole, or repair a bridge. In fact, the unpredictability about when, or if, funding will come has caused states to delay or cancel projects altogether.

The result has been an enormous infrastructure deficit – a nationwide backlog of repairing and rebuilding. Right now, there are so many structurally deficient bridges in America that, if you lined them up end-to-end, they’d stretch from Boston to Miami.  What’s worse, the American people are paying for this inaction in a number of ways. 

Bad roads, for example, are costing individual drivers hundreds of dollars a year due to side effects like extra wear-and-tear on their vehicles and time spent in traffic.

Simply put, the United States of America is in a united state of disrepair, a crisis made worse by the fact that, over the next generation, more will be demanded of our transportation system than ever before.  By 2050, this country will be home to up to 100 million new people.  And we’ll have to move 14 billion additional tons of freight, almost twice what we move now.

Without increasing investment in transportation, we won’t be able to meet these challenges. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, we need to invest $1.8 trillion by 2020 just to bring our surface transportation infrastructure to an adequate level.

So, what America needs is to break this cycle of governing crisis-to-crisis, only to enact a stopgap measure at the last moment. We need to make a commitment to the American people and the American economy.

There is hope on this front.  Some leaders in Washington, including those at the U.S. Department of Transportation, are stepping forward with ideas for paying for our roads, rails, and transit systems for the long-term.

While we – the twelve transportation secretaries – may differ on the details of these proposals, there is one essential goal with which all twelve of us agree:  We cannot continue funding our transportation with measures that are short-term and short of the funding we need.

On this, we are of one mind. And Congress should be, too.

Adequately funding our transportation system won’t be an easy task for our nation’s lawmakers. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Consensus has been brokered before.

Until recently, Congress understood that, as America grows, so must our investments in transportation.  And for more than half a century, they voted for that principle – and increased funding – with broad, bipartisan majorities in both houses.

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Rail to Oakland would be problematic

Written by Jon Schmitz on .


Is Oakland ready for the continuous rumble of rail cars? Such a project's cost and logistics do not make it seem feasible. (Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette)

Those who think the Port Authority and Allegheny County should pursue a light-rail extension from Downtown to Oakland, rather than the Bus Rapid Transit project that is moving forward, might want to consider the following:

Light rail would cost five to 10 times as much as the proposed $200 million BRT line, depending on how much tunneling or bridge construction would be needed to connect to the existing line. Obtaining federal funding to advance BRT to construction will be tough enough, as competition for federal capital grants is fierce.

Operating such a system would be more expensive. The authority’s operating expense per passenger mile in 2012 was nearly 20 percent more for rail than buses. Port Authority is in good financial condition for the first time in many years but won’t stay that way if it chooses more expensive options for running the system.

Infrastructure for a rail line -- structures every few yards to hold up the wires, the wires themselves, signals, longer station platforms, power plants -- would be far more intrusive in the narrow Forbes-Fifth corridor than what will be needed for BRT. How would overhead structures every few yards look in the heart of Oakland?

Buses aren’t quiet but light-rail vehicles, despite the name, are heavy enough to shake the ground around them as they move. Is Oakland ready for the continuous rumble of rail cars?

Because rail cars are heavy and harder to stop, Port Authority slows them to 5 to 10 mph in areas where vehicle traffic and pedestrians commingle with or cross the rail line. Nearly all of the route to Oakland would be that type of environment. The only way to operate at higher speeds would be to fence in long sections of track, which would be impractical. Buses in reserved lanes would move faster.

Some of the above-mentioned problems with rail could be avoided by building underground. Bear in mind that the North Shore Connector cost nearly $550 million and extended the system just over a mile. The line to Oakland would need to be at least three times as long through a heavily built up and populated area. Construction would be a 3- to 5-year nightmare for people and businesses.

A BRT system can be developed in phases over time as funding becomes available. That’s a key factor because it may be difficult to line up all of the construction funding at the outset.

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Port Authority has added three more routes to its developing real-time bus tracking system, bringing the total to eight. Riders of 41 Bower Hill, 56 Lincoln Place and 88 Penn are now able to find out the exact location of buses on those routes using a smartphone, tablet or PC. The system can be accessed at www.portauthority.org.


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menatworkThe painting project that has brought an around-the-clock closure to the outbound Liberty Tunnel will spread to the inbound side starting tonight. The inbound tunnel will close at 8 p.m. today through Friday, reopening by 6 a.m. each day. Traffic will be detoured via Route 51 to the Parkway West interchange. The outbound tunnel remains closed, with reopening scheduled for 6 a.m. next Monday. A 16-day around-the-clock closure of the inbound tunnel will occur next month, on dates yet to be determined.

A long-term around-the-clock closure of West Hardies Road in Hampton is scheduled to begin tonight. The road will close at 8 p.m. between Route 8 and Pioneer Road, with traffic detoured via Wildwood Road. The closure is expected to continue into late August.

Indiana Road in Penn Hills will close today through Wednesday for repaving, weather permitting. The closures will occur from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Local traffic only will be permitted on the road, with others detoured via Hulton Road. The work had been scheduled for last week but was postponed.

An $8 million resurfacing project is scheduled to begin today on Route 19 in Ross and McCandless. The work will cause single-lane traffic starting at 7 p.m. weekdays between Sewickley Oakmont Road in Ross and Longvue Avenue in McCandless through early November. The restriction will be lifted by 6 a.m. daily. A schedule of weekend work will be announced in August. The project will extend into next spring.

Inspection of the Boston Bridge, which carries Route 48 over the Youghiogheny River in Versailles and Elizabeth Township, will cause alternating one-way traffic starting today. The work will be done from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays through Aug. 1.

Filming of the boxing movie “Southpaw” may cause detours today along Brownsville Road in Carrick and Brentwood. The detours are possible from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Brownsville Road intersections with Route 51, Towne Square Way and Biscayne Drive, according to the Pittsburgh Film Office.

Lane closures and two traffic stoppages of up to 15 minutes are scheduled on the Parkway East tonight as PennDOT installs traffic counters. The work will occur between Forest Hills and the Squirrel Hill Tunnels from 10 tonight until 5 a.m. Tuesday.

A $1.65 million improvement project at Route 8 and Ewalt Road in Richland, intended to improve safety and mobility at the intersections with Ewalt Road and Cook Road by adding left hand turn lanes, widening Route 8 and installing concrete barrier, has begun. Northbound Route 8 is reduced to a single 12-foot-wide lane between Krebs and Applewood drives. Southbound Route 8 will remain two lanes. Left turns to Ewalt Road from northbound Route 8 are prohibited.

Rock removal will cause a lane closure on inbound Route 28 near the Route 910 interchange in Harmar from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays through Aug. 8.

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Wave of the future: driving on the left side

Written by Jon Schmitz on .

PennDOT District 12, which includes Washington County, is providing a glimpse of the future with a video depicting a modern interchange where through traffic actually uses the left side of the road. This interchange will be built at the junction of Interstate 70 and Route 19 in South Strabane and is scheduled to open in 2017. If you aren’t familiar with a diverging diamond interchange, this video is well worth a work.

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Oil-bearing railroad tankers are “the Ford Pinto of the rails,” according to the city council president of Spokane, Wash. Two environmental groups on Tuesday filed a petition asking the U.S. Department of Transportation to ban the older tankers, saying they pose a risk for ruptures and explosions. The tankers in question make regular trips through Pittsburgh, passing Station Square and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. The AP reports on the ban request at http://bit.ly/UcrlQM.

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Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that the oil industry and railroads are offering a three-year plan to phase out the oil tankers. See the story at http://bit.ly/1wuVwif.

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The U.S. House passes a stopgap measure on Tuesday to keep federal highway and transit funds flowing to the states into next spring. U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, who voted in favor, has this to say:

“Highways are a critical channel of commerce. They bring raw materials to manufacturers and finished products to market. The way the federal government currently funds transportation programs is fundamentally broken. The legislation we passed today is a stopgap measure that ensures work will continue on important infrastructure projects.  The House and Senate should use this opportunity to work together and find a long-term sustainable solution to reform federal surface transportation programs.”

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., take a dimmer view.

Boxer:

“Sadly, the House has kicked the can down the road and has decided to shirk its responsibility to fix the Highway Trust Fund in this Congress. They have failed to send a message of certainty and confidence to the thousands of businesses and millions of workers who have asked us to act this year on a long-term solution for transportation.”

Blumenauer:

“American infrastructure, which used to be the best in the world and a point of pride bringing Americans together, is now a source of embarrassment and deep concern as we fall further and further behind other global leaders. We are here with a questionable short-term fix because this Congress has refused to address its responsibility to fund our transportation infrastructure system.

“Congress shouldn’t duck its responsibilities, but should pass a 6-year plan and its funding into law this year. We shouldn’t recess until we give the American people the transportation system they need and deserve to strengthen the economy, create hundreds of thousands of family-wage jobs, and improve transportation for families across the nation.

“Ducking our responsibility today harms us all in the long run. Mark my words; next May we’re just going to be back here again, debating the same issue, but deeper in the hole with a steeper climb out.”

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menatworkCatching up on the road work, the outbound Liberty Tunnel is closed around the clock for painting, with reopening scheduled for 6 a.m. July 28. A handy guide to possible detours is here. Add to the list the Wabash Tunnel, which has no HOV requirement and is open outbound from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays.

The Route 51-88 construction site in Overbrook has new traffic patterns that will stay in effect through the end of the year. Left-turn traffic from Route 88 to Route 51 has been shaved to one lane; right-turn traffic from southbound Route 51 to Route 88 has no dedicated turn lane and must proceed to the traffic light before turning; northbound Route 51 traffic, including those who want to go left at Route 88, has been shifted to the jug handle that wraps around the Rite Aid pharmacy.

A new traffic pattern is in effect in the construction zone on Route 51 in Jefferson Hills. Traffic is shifted into a single lane in both directions between Worthington Road and the Elizabeth Bridge, continuing into mid-September. The $5.8 million project includes milling and resurfacing 4.3 miles of Route 51 between the Elizabeth Bridge and Coal Valley Road. Overall work will conclude in December, PennDOT said.

The ramp from Route 65 to southbound I-79 and the ramp from northbound I-79 to Route 65 in Glenfield are closed until further notice as PennDOT repairs damage from a truck hitting an overpass.

Pavement markings will be installed along the entire length of I-79 in Allegheny County next week. Work will occur after 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and cause temporary, slow-moving lane closures. Work wraps by 6 a.m. daily.

Old Steubenville Pike in North Fayette was to close today for removal and replacement of the deck on the bridge over Route 22/30. At 7 a.m., the road was scheduled to close between Stonesipher and Barmack roads and traffic will be detoured. The closure is scheduled to continue into November. The work is part of a milling and resurfacing project on Route 60 and Route 22/30 that is expected to continue into June 2015.

New stop signs are being installed this week for Federal Street traffic approaching the Henderson Street intersection on the North Side.

Westbound Route 30 in North Huntingdon will be restricted to a single lane of traffic overnight today and Thursday and again this weekend. The restriction will occur from Arona Road to the Pennsylvania Turnpike on-ramp from 7 p.m. today and Thursday to 5 a.m. Thursday and Friday, and from 7 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday. A contractor will repair a slide and stabilize the hillside next to the road.

East Hardies Road in Hampton is scheduled to close from 8 p.m. Friday through 5 a.m. Monday between Route 8 and Ranalli Drive for paving.

Montour Run Road and Beaver Grade Road in Moon and Robinson will have alternating one-way traffic from the Montour Trail overpass to a point 700 feet west of the Beaver Grade Road intersection during paving from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

Perry Highway will see traffic disruptions during overnight joint repairs after 9 p.m. Friday. Short-term, slow moving lane closures will occur through 6 a.m. Saturday from Longvue Avenue in McCandless to Bonnie View Drive in Pine.

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