Cheryl Moon-Sirianni, district executive for the state Department of Transportation, has lamented for years the condition of the Parkway East, the highway that runs from the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Monroeville to the Fort Pitt Bridge in Downtown Pittsburgh.

For example, when the agency began a resurfacing project between Downtown and the Squirrel Hill Tunnel a few years ago, Moon-Sirianni said that was only scratching the surface of what needed to be done to improve the highway, which carries 40,000 vehicles every day. Last summer, suppliers of beams to replace the Fern Hollow Bridge had to find other routes because they were too heavy for some parts of the parkway.

Beginning next summer, the agency expects to spend upward of $500 million on improvements over the next five years to that critical highway that include:

  • Repaving from the tunnel to the turnpike.
  • Replacing the Commercial Street and Frazier Street bridges.
  • Redesigning the treacherous outbound Squirrel Hill entrance ramp.
  • Widening Bates Street and considering additional connections to the Parkway East in that area to the Hazelwood Green development site.
  • Eliminating chronic flooding problems at the “bath tub” area near the inbound Stanwix Street exit. 
  • Installing a traffic management system that will establish variable speed limits, and install gates on entrance ramps to reduce traffic during emergencies.

“This section really needs a lot of attention,” Moon-Sirianni told the Union Progress. “Essentially, there hasn’t been any major work in that area since the late 1980s or early 1990s.”

PennDOT has the money for Commercial Street and the first half of the paving work, but Moon-Sirianni said it’s still looking for funding for the other projects. Many of them will be submitted for competitive grants that will be available through billions of dollars in federal funds from the Biden administration’s infrastructure law.

“As these projects get closer to fruition, we’ll put together a coordinating game plan so they aren’t all going on at once,” said Todd Kravitz, PennDOT’s traffic engineer for Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties. “It is going to be a pretty big lift for us, but we will do what we can to keep them separated as much as possible.”

Still there will be inconveniences for the motoring public. The agency has had similar projects in recent years done during overnight hours, but with the labor shortage in the aftermath of the pandemic it has become more difficult to require off-peak hours of work.

“We’re going to ask for a lot of patience from the public,” Moon-Sirianni said. “But we’ve got to get this work done to protect our assets.”

Cars pass under a bridge that carries the Parkway East over Commercial Street in Swisshelm Park, Monday, Dec. 26, 2022. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Union Progress)


Work should begin next summer to repave the area from Churchill to Monroeville. In addition to paving, shoulder and sign work, the project will involve replacing the median barrier.

“That barrier is in bad shape and needs to be totally replaced,” Moon-Sirianni said.

After that section is finished, the department expects a similar project to repave the highway from Edgewood to Churchill, perhaps beginning in 2025.


The department has set aside $123 million to replace the Commercial Street Bridge, the hulking concrete structure that crosses above Frick Park near the Squirrel Hill Tunnel entrance.

PennDOT officials held a series of meetings to discuss whether the public preferred extended restrictions while crews built temporary lanes beside the existing bridge to carry traffic and rebuilt the old lanes, or full closure for a month to demolish the old bridge and slide the new bridge into place after building it beside the current structure. Motorists chose the full closure.

Plans call for the project to go out for bids in February 2024. The full closure is expected in summer 2026.

Designers have just started working on Frazier Street, which is between the Downtown side of the tunnel and the Bates Street exit. That project, which could be more expensive than Commercial Street, could go out for bids in 2028.

The department also has two bridges near the parkway scheduled for construction, the Swinburne Bridge replacement in 2024 and rehabilitation of the Charles Anderson Bridge in 2025.

Squirrel Hill ramps

Moon-Sirianni called the area for the outbound exit and entrance ramps for Squirrel Hill “a traffic nightmare for many years.”

That’s because motorists exiting from Downtown have white-knuckle encounters at Beechwood Boulevard, with vehicles trying to quickly get on the highway and across traffic to go through the tunnel. The goal, through a project expected for 2026, is to eliminate that crisscross and improve safety.

Kravitz said the department will begin a series of public meetings next year to completely redesign the traffic flow in that area. The goal is to have traffic exit earlier, so that entering motorists will have a clear path to merge with highway traffic without weaving through vehicles trying to exit at the same spot.

“You have that constant friction when you have people trying to enter and exit at the same point,” Kravitz said. “We want to separate the entrance and exit points as much as we can.”

There’s no projected construction time for that project yet.

Bates Street

Bates is in a key location at the gateway to the Oakland education and hospital district and the connection to Second Avenue, where the massive Hazelwood Green redevelopment project is underway.

Moon-Sirianni said after 10 years of review the department is ready to move forward in the next few years with a project to widen Bates Street by taking some of the hillside beside it. There is no specific date for that project yet, but it is under design and almost ready to move forward.

More difficult to accomplish is Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s request to add an outbound exit and an inbound entrance for the highway from Second Avenue. Better access is a key element to fully redeveloping the former Jones and Laughlin Steel site, but cramped quarters make the project difficult, Moon-Sirianni said.

“It’s extremely complicated, and there’s no easy way to do it,” she said. “There aren’t a lot of options for an outbound off-ramp. Inbound may be easier.”

The bath tub

More than two decades ago, PennDOT built walls 4 to 5 feet high at the rear of the Mon Wharf parking lot to deal with flooding in a low area on the inbound highway approaching the Stanwix Street exit, nicknamed “the bath tub.” The system worked for about 10 years, and the area rarely had to be closed.

More recently, though, chronic flooding has returned due to climate change or other factors that have caused the level of the Monongahela River to rise. After extensive study, engineers have decided the best way to handle the flooding is to build a bigger wall.

That sounds logical, but Moon-Sirianni said it is not an easy project because of the pressure caused by the water. If the wall isn’t built and anchored properly, pressure from the weight of flood water could cause the lower road surface of the highway to heave, potentially creating a more serious problem. 

That project could be ready for construction in 2026.

A view of the bridge that carries the Parkway East over Commercial Street in Swisshelm Park, Monday, Dec. 26, 2022. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Traffic management

More than chronic flooding, potholed surfaces and harrowing ramp exits, the biggest complaint for drivers on the Parkway East is congestion. The department has started a $1 million study to develop a $45 million plan to address that, Kravitz said.

That system would allow officials to adjust speed limits based on current traffic conditions on the highway and install gates at various entrance ramps to control how many vehicles are on the highway and prevent additional motorists from getting stuck there during emergency situations.

In other areas, such as the Parkway West, engineers have room to install additional lanes to accommodate more traffic. But land isn’t available along the Parkway East.

Kravitz said traffic engineers have instead determined that the best way to improve conditions there is to have a smooth flow of traffic rather than having motorists travel at 55 miles an hour for 3 miles and then meet stopped traffic. One way to accomplish that is to vary the maximum speed limit based on the number of vehicles on the roadway at any given time. Slowing everyone down to a reasonable speed actually allows traffic to reach its destination faster and safer.

Gates at entrance ramps also can allow officials to prevent more vehicles from entering near an accident scene and getting stuck in restricted traffic. Better to send those motorists another way before they enter the highway, Kravitz said. “We can do things to vary the speed limits and adjust to help smooth the pace of traffic,” he said.

“And the last thing we want is more people getting stuck in traffic if there’s an accident.”

The management system could be ready for installation in the next two to three years if funding is available.

Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

Ed Blazina

Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at