Construction by PennDot resolved nightmarish delays at the heavily traveled intersection of Routes 51 and 88 that plagued motorists during their commutes from south Pittsburgh or the South Hills into downtown Pittsburgh. The intersection is a major route into Pittsburgh for many people. More than 40,000 cars pass through it on weekdays. The project happened from 2013 to 2015.
PennDot’s $19 million project to rework the intersection of Routes 51 and 88 included replacing five bridges that were structurally deficient, building a new bridge, updating turning lanes, roadway reconstruction, utility relocation, traffic signal upgrades, lighting, sidewalk and drainage improvements, CCTV cameras and stream bank restoration. Local street connectors were built. Property was acquired to make all the changes. Demolition also took place. The contractor worked 20-hour days, six days a week on the site to complete the project on time.
A jug handle looped around the Rite Aid pharmacy so that northbound traffic on Route 51 could continue onto Route 88 and Glenbury Street. A jug handle is a ramp that changes how traffic turns left. Instead of a standard turn, which can slow or stop traffic, or create a traffic hazard, left-turning traffic uses a ramp on the right side of the road. Jug handles are common in New Jersey.
Four lanes of traffic on Route 51 were kept open during peak travel times during the project. PennDOT generally avoids lane restrictions during the heaviest traffic hours when they can.
In 2015, Route 88 near Route 51 was closed for five months as part of rebuilding the intersection. Northbound traffic was detoured. Parts of Hillview Street was closed to traffic. The staircase on Hillview was shut. Pedestrian traffic was rerouted. During that time, the roadway was worked on. Drainage was improved. A bridge was replaced. A new retaining wall was built.
When Route 88 reopened, there was for the first time a dedicated right hand turn lane from southbound Route 51 to southbound Route 88. Traffic signals along Route 51 were timed for longer green cycles, easing traffic along Saw Mill Run Boulevard. Additional work included landscaping, sign and guide rail installation, and pavement markings.
Along with reducing commute times, the project increased safety at several locations that were identified as having a high probability of crashes. Flash flooding issues were addressed by improving drainage.
Route 51 carries traffic north from Fayette County into Pittsburgh. Saw Mill Run Boulevard is the Pittsburgh name for the stretch of Route 51 that starts at the intersection of Clairton Road and Stewart Avenue, where Overbrook borders Brentwood. Saw Mill Run Boulevard travels north through Overbrook. The road passes Brookline, Route 88, the Liberty Tunnel and the Fort Pitt Tunnel. It ends at the West End Bridge. Saw Mill Run Boulevard is a four-lane road for its entire length.
The intersection where Route 88 ends at Route 51 was a migraine headache for motorists for half a century. The first discussions about fixing the bottleneck started in the mid 1960s. A plan was hatched to build the Saw Mill Run Expressway along Saw Mill Run Boulevard, turning Route 51 into an expressway. From Overbrook north to the West End, the Saw Mill Run Expressway would have been a limited access road that resolved major traffic issues at the intersection with Route 88. Concerns about hurting businesses along the route lead to the project being dropped in the early 70s.
Planning to resolve the Route 88/Route 51 congestion resurfaced in the 90s. Planning took a serious turn in the 2000s, leading to the intersection reconstruction.