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Restrictions lifted but work continues through next year
All four lanes of the Jerome Avenue Bridge have now reopened, but work on a $15.44 million rehabilitation project will continue through next year. (Tube City Almanac photo)
The dark blue paint on the Jerome Avenue Bridge is there to stay, and is a homage to the red and blue colors of the McKeesport Area School District, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation said.
Last week, all four lanes of the bridge reopened to traffic after being restricted to one lane since March 2021. Single-lane restrictions will continue on the bridge weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. through the spring of 2022, but traffic will be maintained in each direction, said Steve Cowan, spokesman for PennDOT District 11.
Built in 1937 by Allegheny County, the bridge connects West Fifth Avenue and Lysle Boulevard over the CSX Railroad tracks and the Youghiogheny River. Up to 11,000 vehicles per day cross the span, PennDOT statistics indicate.
The structure is in the midst of an $15.44 million rehabilitation project that will include a new concrete deck and sidewalk, barrier repairs, full painting, structural steel repairs, concrete substructure repairs, bearing replacement, and new expansion dams. The Joseph B. Fay Co. of Tarentum is the prime contractor.
The restrictions caused some concerns among emergency responders, who worried that the posted detours — through Port Vue using the 15th Avenue Bridge, or on Route 837 to the Mansfield Bridge — would delay response times for police, firefighters and ambulance personnel.
Cowan said the bridge had to be restricted to one lane because the traffic area is only about 40 feet wide.
“When you do phased construction, a temporary barrier is needed to separate traffic from the work zone as well as to separate oncoming traffic,” he said. “So if you were to leave two 10-foot lanes open, you could only work on one-third of the bridge at a time.”
As part of the rehab, Cowan said, crews had to replace the entire existing subsurface of the roadway, which was a concrete-filled grid with steel stringers and crossbeams that had deteriorated.
“We installed all new stringers and a more typical rebar and concrete deck,” he said. “With this new configuration, the stringer spacing changed, which in return also controlled the widths that we could work on.”
PennDOT determined that only one lane could stay open at a time, Cowan said — and that maintaining one eastbound lane from 10th Ward into Downtown was the best option because it provided direct access to UPMC McKeesport.
PennDOT considered allowing emergency vehicles to cross in the “wrong” direction but decided that there were “unavoidable safety concerns” that the public might try to follow a fire truck or other emergency responder and cause an accident, Cowan said.
A reversible emergency traffic signal also was considered, but PennDOT determined that the amount of time it would take to activate the traffic signal, stop traffic and allow an emergency vehicle to cross was almost as much time as it would take to detour, Cowan said.
As for the dark blue paint that now adorns part of the bridge, Cowan said the entire bridge is being repainted from its current sky blue to a darker shade in honor of the McKeesport Tigers.
“It was chosen to match the local ‘McKeesport Tiger Blue’ school colors,” he said. “Painting will not be completed until early fall 2022.”
At recent city council meetings, resident Regis Mellinger has suggested to McKeesport officials that they consider decorating the bridge with lights, just as Pittsburgh and some other cities have done with their landmark bridges.
Cowan said there are no plans by PennDOT to put decorative lighting on the bridge, but new LED street lights and navigational lights for river traffic are being installed as part of the upgrade project.
However, Cowan said, if the city wanted to decorate the Jerome Avenue Bridge, PennDOT wouldn’t stand in McKeesport’s way.
“McKeesport could discuss the possibility of a Bridge Occupancy Permit with PennDOT, if they were interested, to install additional decorative lighting,” he said.
Originally published December 20, 2021.