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Oakland Avenue/Route 286 Reconstruction in Western Pennsylvania Adds Capacity and Enables Further Development

by: Larry Bernstein
Workers for Gulisek Construction Company prepare a section of Route 286 for reconstruction in Indiana County, Pennsylvania.
Workers for Gulisek Construction Company prepare a section of Route 286 for reconstruction in Indiana County, Pennsylvania.
Located in western Pennsylvania, approximately 60 miles east of Pittsburgh, Indiana County has had a great deal of commercial growth and local infrastructure needs to be improved to keep up. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) District 10 has nearly completed the Oakland Avenue/Route 286 Reconstruction Project, which will help Indiana County infrastructure meet the needs of increased development in the area.
Long-Standing Need
The project is taking place around the Route 286/U.S. 422 Interchange East, with most of the work occurring on Route 286.

“This project has been under consideration for many years due to the commercial growth in the area and the pedestrian traffic,” says Rich Polenik, an Assistant Construction Manager for PennDOT in the district. In the area, there is retail, an industrial park, and the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The average daily traffic amount is approximately 18,000 vehicles with 2 percent being trucks.

Funding constraints prevented PennDOT from moving forward on the needed expansion earlier.

Approximately 1.5 miles of Route 286 is being widened. Currently, there are three lanes, as some stretches have a turn lane. When construction is complete, there will be four lanes throughout the area and a separate turn lane where appropriate. Another half mile of extension is occurring at some of the busier intersections, which will now have an additional turn lane to improve the traffic flow.

Alternative modes of transportation are also being accommodated. The team is installing bike lanes on both sides of the route. A sidewalk will run through the entire project area as well.

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Other work along Route 286 includes signal upgrades, guide rail improvements, updated signing, pavement marking, and safety feature updates.

The team is also doing significant work related to drainage and stormwater facilities. They replaced an existing culvert with a precast box culvert and installed three stormwater basins. The work is part of an effort to upgrade erosion control.

“We’re striving to keep water off the roadway as it’s a risk to drivers,” says Dominick D’Angelo, a Project Manager with Gulisek Construction Company, the prime contractor on the project.

The area is relatively flat and the goal is to keep water off the roadway and control the watershed. “We don’t want to discharge all the water at once and cause erosion, so we installed inlet boxes with catch basins, which will divert the water off the roadway in a controlled manner,” D’Angelo says.

Scheduling Challenges
The project began in November 2019 and was scheduled to last four years. When the pandemic hit, the state halted the project. “COVID slowed things down to a standstill for about five weeks,” Polenik says. “When we got back out there, we had to ramp back up.” Upon returning to work, there were various health and safety protocols that needed to be implemented.

Gulisek did what they could to be productive despite not being on site. The sequencing was changed to help make up some time. Ultimately, the project completion date is only being pushed back by a month.

Another challenge, according to D’Angelo, was related to the removal of the existing culvert and installation of the new box culver. Gulisek was allotted seven days to get the work done.

The work included shutting down the road, implementing a detour, digging out the old culvert, installing the new one, putting in the backfill, paving, and opening the road back up. This was in addition to receiving the new box culvert and putting it together.

Another wrinkle made the challenge even more pronounced – an overhead utility line. “We considered a few options for how we would remove the old culvert and install the new one, but a crane was the only one that worked,” D’Angelo says.

Gulisek, PennDOT, and Penelec – the local power company – partnered and devised a plan. Penelec did a planned shut-off early one morning until lunchtime. By then, the team could move the crane so that the utility line was no longer in the way. The power company switched some customers to a different line during the shut-off to minimize the number of customers impacted.

A Good Working Relationship
Gulisek, located about an hour outside the area, has completed many projects in the district and is very familiar with the area. The superintendent on the project has been working in the district on PennDOT projects for the past eight years.

Polenik says that Gulisek has a good working relationship with PennDOT. They are able to coordinate various elements and get the workforce and sources on a job to achieve it in a timely manner.

The project was scheduled to go through November 2023, but the new expected completion date is in December. “Our goal is to have the bulk of the roadwork completed by mid-summer, and everything paved by end of August,” D’Angelo says. Following paving, the remaining work will be punch-list items.

The project budget is $19.8 million and it’s being funded by the federal government. However, Polenik notes that the Indiana County Municipal Authority added funding for the sewer line relocation and Pennsylvania American Water provided funding for the water line relocation.

While there have been some minor change orders that may make the project go over budget, the difference would be minimal.

When the Oakland Avenue/Route 286 project is complete, there will be additional vehicle access, improved ease of access, and better pedestrian and cyclist safety. The project betters the area and enables further development.

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