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Three Projects in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey Win Regional America’s Transportation Awards

by: Jessica Hoover
I-579 Urban Open Space Cap Project
I-579 Urban Open Space Cap Project
State Route 5S and North Genesee Street Multi-Modal Safety and Connections Enhancements Project
State Route 5S and North Genesee Street Multi-Modal Safety and Connections Enhancements Project
Route 495, Route 1&9/Paterson Plank Road Bridge
Route 495, Route 1&9/Paterson Plank Road Bridge
Three state department of transportation projects in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey won regional awards in the 2022 America’s Transportation Awards competition, sponsored by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), AAA, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The competition recognizes state DOTs for making a difference in their community, with each project falling into one of three categories: Operations Excellence, Best Use of Technology & Innovation, and Quality of Life/Community Development.

“State DOTs are overwhelmingly focused on innovative solutions to address the transportation issues of today and tomorrow, meeting challenges involving climate change, equity, resiliency, and safety,” said Jim Tymon, Executive Director of AASHTO. “The America’s Transportation Awards program shows just how they’re doing that. Whether on foot, in a vehicle, on two wheels, or by rail or transit, state DOTs are continuing to advance a safe, multimodal transportation system.”

Eighteen projects in the Northeast Association of State Transportation Officials (NASTO) region were nominated by seven states and the District of Columbia for this year’s competition. The following three projects in the Constructioneer area were winners of the regional America’s Transportation Awards.

I-579 Urban Open Space Cap Project (Quality of Life/Community Development, Medium Category)
This project won in the Quality of Life/Community Development category, which honors projects that better connect people to businesses, jobs, health care facilities, and recreational activities while encouraging a mix of transportation modes. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s (PennDOT) I-579 Urban Open Space Cap Project is a three-acre green space bridging over the interstate that reconnected a historic neighborhood to the resources and opportunities in downtown Pittsburgh.

In the 1950s, entire blocks of homes and businesses were demolished in the Lower Hill District — a predominantly African American neighborhood — as part of the construction of the former Civic Arena. I-579 was also built during that time, which created tall retaining walls and interstate traffic that separated the Hill District from downtown. When the Civic Arena was demolished in 2012, PennDOT used that opportunity to reconnect the neighborhood through the I-579 Urban Open Space Cap Project.

This first-of-its-kind, $30-million park improves pedestrian and bicycle access to the area by functioning as a “cap” over I-579. PennDOT obtained input from residents of the Hill District, which led to including integrated art, bike pathways, and green infrastructure in the project. The park also includes story walls featuring the history of the Hill District; seat drums and chimes from local artists; outdoor classroom space; performance and green spaces; an amphitheater; and a bike-share station. Native trees, shrubs, and grasses help reduce noise from the interstate and relieve heat island effects.

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“It [this project] was extremely thoughtful,” said Cheryl Moon, PennDOT District 11 District Executive. “The project itself was the bridge that connected the community in a way. It really tells a story. It really brought in a community culture that had been disconnected for many years, and it brought us back together.”

State Route 5S and North Genesee Street Multi-Modal Safety and Connections Enhancements Project (Operations Excellence, Small Category)
This project won in the Operations Excellence category, which honors projects that demonstrate the ability to operate the existing transportation system as safely and efficiently as possible. With the State Route 5S and North Genesee Street Multi-Modal Safety and Connections Enhancements Project, the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) saw a need to address safety deficiencies and reduce the crash rate in the city of Utica.

“As we were looking at solutions to address the safety issues, we also saw opportunities to make significant improvements in the corridors for other users, particularly bicyclists and pedestrians,” said Brian Hoffmann, Regional Design Engineer. “In general, it was an overbuilt corridor with many lanes and very long crosswalks. It was very unfriendly to pedestrians and bicyclists. So we took the opportunity to address those needs.”

The $23-million project has improved downtown Utica by making roadways safer and more accommodating with the following improvements:

  • Right-sizing corridors by eliminating unnecessary travel lanes and frontage streets
  • Reducing median widths to lower travel speeds and shorten pedestrian crossing distances
  • Dedicated off- and on-street bicycle lanes
  • Re-purposing a two-lane bridge to accommodate a new multi-use path connecting downtown and north Utica
  • A new roundabout that eliminated right angle crashes and restored previously prohibited left turn movements
  • Pedestrian crosswalks enhanced with rapid flashing beacons
  • Audible pedestrian countdown signals at all signalized intersections
  • Beautification with plantings, decorative lighting, bollards, benches, planters, and trash receptacles

This redesign of two significant corridors has improved all modes of transportation in the Utica community, along with improving traffic flows, reducing vehicle speeds, dramatically cutting crashes, and improving accessibility and mobility.

“It feels like we gave a corridor back to the city,” said Linda Lubey, Regional Director for NYSDOT Region 2. “We gave them back the city streets to some degree. It still is a state highway that services the needs of commuters, but now it’s servicing all modes of traffic safely.”

Route 495, Route 1&9/Paterson Plank Road Bridge (Operations Excellence, Medium Category)
The New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) worked closely with the public and 16 local, state, and regional agencies to restore a vital bridge and freeway that connects commuters from New Jersey to midtown Manhattan through the Lincoln Tunnel. The $88-million Route 495, Route 1&9/Paterson Plank Road Bridge project was completed through 12 stages over four years.
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Hayden-Murphy Equipment Co

Located in one of the country’s most densely populated regions, restoring the 84-year-old Paterson Plank Road Bridge was no easy feat. While working on the bridge, NJDOT had to keep 150,000 vehicles and nearly 2,000 commuter buses transporting more than 63,000 passengers moving through the jobsite every workday.

“This is the busiest road that goes right to Midtown Manhattan, and there’s no alternate route in the immediate vicinity,” Supervising Engineer William Eric Neu said. “It’s either the local streets or this highway, so we couldn’t really divert traffic. … Building the bridge, fully replacing the bridge deck, and keeping traffic flowing through a major artery was a pretty big event.”

Prior to this project, commuters experienced frequent delays due to the emergency repairs to the Paterson Plank Road Bridge, which was rated as structurally deficient and functionally obsolete. After the project’s completion, the bridge’s useful service life has extended to an estimated 75 years and motorists have experienced a safer, faster, and more reliable commute.

Next Phase of the Competition
The three highest-scoring projects from each regional America’s Transportation Awards competition (a total of 12 projects) will continue on to compete for the national Grand Prize and the People’s Choice Award. The 12 finalists will be announced and online voting for the People’s Choice Award will begin in September. In October, AASHTO will reveal the winners for the Grand Prize and the People’s Choice Award at its 2022 Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida.
Volvo CE
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Nuss Truck & Equipment
Volvo CE
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Nuss Truck & Equipment