PennDOT recently laid out plans for the fourth phase of the Liberty Tubes rehabilitation project that will rebuild the tunnels and upgrade their facades.
This phase, scheduled to begin in early 2013, will include restoring the tunnel portal facades to their original design, reinforcing the arched walls and support beams at the tunnel entrances, concrete replacement, ventilation and other improvements.
The first phase included electrical work in the outbound tunnel, as well as repairs to the ceiling and to one of eight ventilation shafts. The second phase included work on the other seven ventilation shafts, and similar work in the inbound tunnel. Lighting was completed in the third phase.
Joseph DiFiore, the vice president and Pittsburgh-area manager for Parsons Brinckerhoff, a consulting firm for infrastructure projects, said the tunnels are not at a point of major deterioration, but that repairs do need to be made. The preservation project will help keep one of Pittsburgh’s assets in good condition well into the future, he said.
“We’re trying to lengthen the life of the tunnel,” he said. “This tunnel is very strong. We’re confident that the tunnel is safe. It just needs a little TLC.”
The 5,889 foot-long tunnel opened in 1924. It was the first tunnel constructed in Pittsburgh to be used strictly for auto travel, and was likely the first artificially-ventilated tunnel in the United States, according to Gerry Kuncio of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
For historical reasons alone, it’s important to restore the tunnels properly, and make sure they’re in existence well into the future, he said. Because the tunnel is so heavily used today, he said, it’s also important to make sure they’re safe and up to date.
“These were a real catalyst for the South Hills neighborhoods,” Kuncio said. “Dormont, Mt. Lebanon and on down, these communities wouldn’t have existed if not for this tunnel.”
As in the previous project phases, most work on the tunnel will be done at night and will not affect traffic during rush hours. Although there might be a temporary closure of the tunnel at some point, neither the date or duration of that closure has been determined.
This article originally appeared on Dormont-Brookline Patch