Engineer says Pa. roads, bridges shortchanged for 63 years

Written by Jon Schmitz on .

Ody Mackin has been a highway engineer for 63 years and heads Mackin Engineering Co., one of Pittsburgh’s most prominent design companies.
In a recent column submitted to the Post-Gazette, Mr. Mackin says there has never been adequate funding for the state’s highway and bridge network. An excerpt:

“ … as a result, we are faced today with potential disastrous events with a litany of structurally deficient bridges, requiring the recent severe action (lower weight limits) taken by the Secretary of Transportation on 1,000 bridges throughout the state.

Mackin has several teams of top-notch bridge inspectors, and over the years, we have developed a significant body of knowledge regarding the state of many of the bridges throughout the Commonwealth. There continues to be decay, most of which is not readily evident to the driving public, bicyclists, pedestrians or those who use public transportation …

And, every time the subject is discussed, I recall the incident in Washington County when the Main Street Bridge collapsed suddenly onto I-70, and miraculously, no one was killed or injured. Our company provided the design for the bridge’s replacement, enabling us to experience first-hand the seriousness and urgency of our system’s problems. Obviously, there have been bridge collapses in other parts of the country, resulting in tragically different results.

Pennsylvania needs a comprehensive plan which will provide the necessary funding to provide safe movement of our citizens. The public deserves it."

Mr. Mackin’s is just one voice in a large chorus that includes business and labor organizations, environmentalists, local government officials and transit and safety advocates urging the Legislature to pass a funding bill. So far, partisan politics has drowned out the chorus.


roadworkaheadPennDOT has already put out the word that the Squirrel Hill Tunnels will be open this coming weekend. Overnight lane closures will end by 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

The bridge construction project on Interstate 79 at Route 422 in Butler County has halted for the winter, and all lanes are open in both directions.

The Liberty Bridge ramp to Interstate 579-Crosstown Boulevard will be closed again this week, with a detour in place after 9 a.m. daily through Friday. Work will conclude by 5 p.m. daily but the restriction has been lifted earlier on some days. The detour has caused serious backups on the bridge, so an alternate route is recommended. Here's a capture of the Monday morning backup:


Lane restrictions are possible during washing of bridges that carry Interstate 79 over Deer Run Road in both directions and an I-79 on-ramp in Glenfield from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. through Friday. The affected ramp is the on-ramp from Route 65 to southbound I-79 and Deer Creek Road.

Intermittent lane closures will occur on Lebanon Road between Lebanon Church Road and Noble Drive in West Mifflin from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays through Jan. 31 during water line work.

The on-ramp from northbound Route 837 to the Duquesne-McKeesport Bridge and the southbound Route 837 ramp under the bridge in Duquesne will have partial lane closures and shoulder restrictions during repairs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Saturday. Both ramps will stay open.

Lane closures are possible on Route 366-Bull Creek Road in Tarentum and Fawn from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Dec. 6 between the Route 28 interchange and Pleasant Road. Westbound restrictions (moving toward the bridge) will not start before 9 a.m.; eastbound closures will end by 3 p.m.

The Fort Pitt Tunnel will have single-lane traffic inbound starting at 10 p.m. today and Tuesday and outbound starting at 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday during cleaning and maintenance. Work will end by 5 a.m. daily. With the Liberty Tunnels still closing at 8 p.m. daily there could be a bit of a backup from this.

The traffic pattern has changed on the Interstate 79 southbound off-ramp to Route 228 in Cranberry. Traffic going toward Route 19 must turn right at the signal rather than using the ramp to reach Route 228. Trucks are being urged to exit at Evans City and use Route 19 south to avoid the ramp restriction and tight right turn at Cranberry.

Homestead-Duquesne Road in West Mifflin has reopened after a two-month closure to repair a landslide.

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National Register honors Allegheny Commons Park

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .


Allegheny Commons Park on the North Side has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, a status it shares with two other parks in the city — Schenley Park and Point State Park.
The commons is Pittsburgh’s oldest park, established during the emergence of Allegheny, which was a separate city before Pittsburgh annexed it in 1907.
The Allegheny Commons Initiative nominated the park, which was already a city historic district. The initiative is leading the implementation of a multi-phase restoration.
“We are thrilled that Allegheny Commons has joined an elite group of landscapes included on the National Register,” said Alida Baker, the initiative’s project director. “As stewards of this very special place, we hope  the designation will help us to attract much-needed investment and inspire our city to treat it with integrity and respect.”
Speaking of which... the city has made plans to begin  demolition of the pedestrian bridge that spans sunken railroad tracks. The bridge has been closed for about 12 years. 
Almost exactly four years ago, when city officials stated the concrete span was crumbling and presented a threat, the city proposed demolishing it. The Historic Review Commission delayed the decision that ultimately favored that request.
To say that neighborhood and park advocates objected doesn’t begin to describe the outcry. The arguments were to restore it or, if it must be demolished, to replace it. At the time, Pat Hassett, the assistant director of public works, said  he “would very much like to have the bridge replaced, but I have no money to do it. I have 120 bridges and two engineers.” 
The neo-classical concrete bridge was cast in place in 1906. It links two parks of the park that are separated by Norfolk Southern’s submerged tracks. 
One of the fears expressed by historic review commissioners and residents is that once the bridge is removed, the neighborhood has no leverage to pressure the city for a replacement. Without a replacement bridge, the site will act as a broken hinge on a door that is supposed to open for pedestrian flow. It was the intent of the designers of the park.
It is difficult to restore something to its original. Concessions sometimes have to be. But restorations are quite skewed when pieces disappear. The bridge demolition without a funding commitment for its replacement makes the news of the National Registry a little bittersweet.


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A very Pittsburgh Halloween

Written by Heather Schmelzlen on .

Need some last-minute Halloween costume inspiration? Take a cue from these folks, who are adding a little Pittsburgh spirit to the holiday.

Sports costumes are always popular because they're easy. Throw on a jersey and you're almost there. Bonus points for copying the facial hair of your favorite player.


If you're missing the rubber duck, don't worry -- you're likely to see some out tonight.

Post-Gazette classical music critic Liz Bloom even got in on the fun (yes, she wore this to the office today).

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Liz, visiting the former home of her muse. (Jacob Sanders/Post-Gazette)


But our favorite costumes this year are the ones you won't find in stores.

Callen Wallace of North Side was a hit with his tribute to Isaly's chipped-chopped ham. The getup even made it onto Reddit earlier this week, where someone called it "The greatest costume a Pittsburgher could wear."


(Matte Braidic/Faceburgh)

Fresher? Yes. Leaner? Sure. Hammier? Definitely.

But the winners of the first-ever Pittsblogh Halloween Costume Contest are these guys...

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(Photo courtesy of Gina Stiger)

Gina Stiger of North Hills sent in this photo of her two children, niece and nephew as the Pirates Pierogies. From left to right are Jada Davies, 6, as Jalapeno Hannah; Gianna Aguglia, 8, as Oliver Onion; Kaden Stiger, 5, as Sauerkraut Saul and Chase Aguglia, 7, as Cheese Chester. Gina said her mother, Diane Aguglia, made all of the costumes.


We think these costumes will be pretty hard to beat, but tell us -- what are you going as this year?


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Race to close roads Downtown and elsewhere on Sunday

Written by Jon Schmitz on .

The first running of the EQT Pittsburgh 10 Miler footrace will close streets in Downtown Pittsburgh and surrounding neighborhoods on Sunday. The race starts at Station Square and continues through the West End, North Shore, Strip District and Lawrenceville before returning to Downtown via Liberty Avenue. The course includes four bridges: West End, Andy Warhol, Rachel Carson and 16th Street. The entire course will close at 8 p.m. West End streets reopen by 9:30, North Side 10:30 and the rest of the course by noon. More information can be had here.


The rationale for raising transportation taxes and fees in Pennsylvania is that they haven’t been increased since 1997 and inflation has eaten away at the revenue they generate. But some who support these inflationary adjustments are not on board with raising the threshold for projects requiring union-level prevailing wages. That $25,000 threshold hasn’t changed since 1961. So adjusting for inflation is good, except when it’s not.

There’s a good chance that the much-debated transportation funding bill will be derailed if unions and pro-union legislators don’t give a little. Rural lawmakers who are loath to increase funding for public transit need something to take back to their constituents, and raising the wage threshold could enable boroughs and townships to save money on smaller projects.

Sure, it would be nice if such side issues could be kept separate and the transportation bill voted up or down on its merits, political considerations aside. World peace would be nice, too.

More on transportation funding, from today's Post-Gazette, here and here. The Post-Gazette's editorial from earlier this week is here.



From the emailbox:

Getting America to Work, a nationwide coalition advocating for federal investment in the nation’s bus and rail transit systems, is urging Congress to stop scheduled cuts to the tax-free benefit for commuters using public transportation to get to work.

Current law allows workers and employers to pay up to $245 in monthly transit costs with tax-exempt dollars. This is the same maximum tax-free amount allowed for a similar benefit for those who drive to work and pay for parking. However, on January 1, the transit benefit maximum is scheduled to be cut almost in half, to $125 per month, while the parking benefit will remain at a maximum of $245.

“Keeping parity between commuter benefits for transit and parking is nonpartisan, common sense policy,” said Joe Costello, executive director of the Northeastern Illinois Regional Transportation Authority and chairman of Getting America to Work. “Transit benefits encourage more workers to use public transportation, reducing traffic congestion, the demand for gasoline and air pollution. I urge Congress to preserve transit-parking benefit parity.”


menatworkThe Squirrel Hill Tunnels will be open for the weekend. Overnight lane closures will be lifted by 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

There will be several traffic stoppages on the Parkway East from midnight Friday to 2 a.m. Saturday between Squirrel Hill and Edgewood-Swissvale during erection of an overhead sign. Traffic in both directions will be stopped for up to 15 minutes at a time.

Just a reminder that the Liberty Tunnels close at 8 p.m. every day except Sunday, reopening by 5 a.m.

Red Line service may be delayed from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. today during the Beechview Halloween parade.

Work on a temporary roadway at Butler Street and One Wild Place in Highland Park was to begin today. Crews are removing the traffic island and the eastbound right-turn ramp from Butler Street to One Wild Place to prepare to build the temporary roadway. Drivers will make the right turn at the traffic signal. The work is part of the Heths Run Bridge replacement project and is designed to keep traffic flowing when the bridge is shut down. The temporary roadway through the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium parking lot will be for cars and light trucks.

The bridge that carries Prestley Road over Chartiers Creek in Collier will open to unrestricted traffic today. The project to replace the bridge deck and bearings, paint and make roadway improvements began in early March. Substructure painting will continue through November but will not affect traffic. About 6,000 vehicles per day use the road.

Overnight lane closures on Route 51 in Overbrook near the Route 88 intersection will occur tonight and on weeknights through Nov. 9. The restrictions are possible after 7 p.m. daily between Ivyglen and Maytide streets during manhole and pipe installation. Work will conclude by 6 a.m., except on Saturdays, when it will conclude by 10 a.m.

Northbound and southbound detours at the construction project on Route 837 at the Route 51 interchange in West Elizabeth will continue through Nov. 22.

Repairs to the Hulton Bridge will continue to cause alternating one-way traffic on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Nov. 8.

Bridges need to be washed, and PennDOT will be redding up the 40th Street Bridge across the Allegheny River starting Friday. Lane closures are possible weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. through Nov. 15. Bridge washing also will cause lane closures on the eastbound Boulevard of the Allies and on Forbes Avenue in the area of the Birmingham Bridge from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays through next Wednesday.

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Fighting the world view that "nobody cares"

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .


vanessaVanessa German has been called an activist. Thinking just of her artistic merit and her ability to redirect the thinking of her audience, she is that. But outsiders easily ascribe that word to people who make efforts that would be much less remarked upon in a “safe” neighborhood. 
The performance artist and sculptor will be performing Friday at the Pavel Zoubok Gallery, 531 W. 26th St., in New York, where her show “Homewood” has been up since mid October. It closes on Nov. 9.
The photos here are of two pieces, “Self Portrait of the Artist with Physicalized Soul,” left, and “Defiance,” below.
Her activism is what the mainstream would consider quiet. She is an educator. One of her projects is the Art House, a city-owned building in which she oversees children who come after school to make art several doors from her own house in Homewood. She cleans illicit detritus from around it before anyone shows up. 
Her art is not quiet if you spend time with it. It is laden with the stuff of every day life and the stuff of everyday life where she lives, including intangibles.
Her description of “Self Portrait” goes like this: “Old masted model ship, oil tin, tar, black pigment, white pigment, blue spray paint, cell phones, twine, wire, toy alligators, toy guns, toy hand cuffs, toy boats, pistol key chains, in honor of the ocean, blue iron, 3 birds as thought caught and killed, 2 ceramic horses, blue beads, blue bottles, wooden ashtray feet, my mother’s mother was Cherokee, my father’s mother’s mother was Native American -- her name was Hattie McWoodson, carved wood souvenir head of little girl from Africa, no conclusions to be drawn, porcelain doll heads from bombed out doll factory in Germany, souvenir clock brought back from Versailles in France, hearts, beads, buttons, twine, keys, the sense of drowning, the fight to stay afloat, tears, blue cloth, wire, wood, plaster, wood glue, wooden stand.”
When I interviewed her recently for my Walkabout column, which is scheduled to run in the Post-Gazette next Tuesday on page 2, she talked about her campaign to prove kids wrong when they say “Nobody cares.”
In talking to and instructing children, she hears that mantra often: “They say, ‘Nobody cares,’” apropos of nothing and everything, she said.
She is trying to prove to the Westinghouse High School Band that people do care. The band had raised about $6,000 of $20,000 it needs to stay afloat. The indiegogo campaign at has just a few days to go.
She is actively promoting the campaign to help the band buy instruments and uniforms by offering art and performances to people who donate. 
“I will make you a handmade, hand painted dress if you donate $150 to the Westinghouse Bulldog Band indiegogo campaign,” she wrote on Facebook. 
“Would you like this sculpture?” she wrote in another post. “I am gifting this new sculpture to some generous soul who donates to the Westinghouse Bulldogs Band indiegogo campaign. This sculpture is called ‘stop crying already, sing a song.’”
She had 22 names in the hat and one person’s name in it 10 times in a drawing for the sculpture. german
 If the band fails to raise the money, it wouldn’t prove that nobody cares. Lots of organizations for which people have cared greatly in the past are experiencing the affects of frugality these days. But it would be fodder for an already pretty intransigent world view.
"It hurts my heart," she said. "I think about that in Homewood as a whole. I see so many kids who are hard, kids who think that whatever people think about Homewood is true of them too.”
Photos courtesy of the Pavel Zoubok Gallery


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