CRANBERRY TWP — It has been discussed for decades and has disrupted traffic for months.
Now, the MSA Thruway is taking shape as a tunnel, rather than just an expensive, deep hole in the ground.
At a tour Wednesday, township officials were updated on the progress of the project — estimated at $16 million — while construction workers placed several-ton pieces of concrete foundation that will be the basis for much of the tunnel.
When it's completed, the tunnel will connect Cranberry Woods with Cranberry Springs on either side of Route 228, with a lane coming off the Interstate 79 north exit onto a roundabout in Cranberry Woods.
Don Herbert, project manager, said all of the foundation pieces — concrete and steel pieces on either side of the tunnel's entrance — have been laid on the south side of the thruway, and workers will soon begin placing pedestals, forming the basis of the tunnel itself.
In about two-and-a-half to three weeks, Herbert said, the pedestals will have been placed, allowing crews to begin installing the arch on the south side. The arch will be installed in tunnel-wide, 4-foot-long sections. Herbert said he expects this part of the project to be completed by the end of August.
At that time, crews will shift traffic again, and re-pave the southern part of Route 228. Tim Zinkham, township engineer, said construction will then begin on the north side of the tunnel, picking up where the last arch was placed on the Cranberry Woods edge.
All load-bearing parts of the tunnel have and will be fabricated off-site, which Herbert said makes the process go more quickly.
After the tunnel has been placed under Route 228 and that roadway is back to its normal state — which should happen by the end of 2020 or beginning of 2021 — crews will begin work on paving the dedicated lane from Interstate 79 to the thruway, according to Zinkham. All paving work will occur after the tunnel is built, including the tunnel approaches, which Herbert said will give the project as few joints as possible.
The project is expected to be completed by winter 2021. For Jerry Andree, Cranberry Township manager, it's a project 25 years in the making that he's glad to see inching toward completion.
“It is the final component of the comprehensive plan the board (of supervisors) adopted 25 years ago,” Andree said, adding the tunnel will be infrastructure of which to be proud.
Cranberry expects nearly 1,300 cars to use the lane from I-79 to the thruway during morning rush hours, ultimately reducing the queue on that exit by nearly half. Additionally, the township projects the traffic on Route 228 between I-79 and the two developments to be reduced by nearly one-quarter in the morning and by about 10 percent in the evening.