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A journey through the Ohiopyle Multimodal Gateway Project

October 20, 2020 10:00 AM
By: Jay Ofsanik

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Ever since Groundbreaking Ceremonies kicked off construction of the $12.4 million Ohiopyle Multimodal Gateway Project back in November 2018, the landscape in and around Ohiopyle Borough and the Ohiopyle State Park has been undergoing major changes. These changes will better serve all users who frequent the park, as well as all modes of travel through the area.

The Ohiopyle Multimodal Gateway Project, OMG for short, passes through both Ohiopyle Borough and Ohiopyle State Park. The project is a collaborative effort between the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), wanting to provide safety enhancements and improvements to the Route 381 (Main Street) corridor while minimizing conflict points between motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, kayakers and rafters.

Previous improvements had been made to this area in past years. This project now consolidates those efforts while adding more improvements to better serve the many visitors who use or pass through this very popular tourist area. The end-result will be a cohesive multimodal corridor for all those who come to enjoy the beauty of this area.

The popularity of Ohiopyle, known for its hiking, biking and rafting adventures, attracts an estimated 1.5 million visitors a year! Not wanting to interfere with the visitors, the Department specified this work to take place over 2 "unconventional construction seasons." Unconventional being defined as working through the winter months and not working through the summer months, totally opposite from the norm.

During the first "season" of the project, November 2018 through May 2019, Sugarloaf Road was relocated to make room for the construction of a brand new "Upper Falls" parking lot. The former alignment of Sugarloaf Road divided this area into two parking lots, which consisted of dirt and gravel parking spaces. Now, since Sugarloaf Road has been relocated, this new parking area has been reconfigured to provide over 100 parking spaces in one continuous parking lot, consisting of a pervious asphalt roadway surface. The parking lot will also provide EV charging stations for hybrid vehicles. Future plans include construction of a new Visitor's Change-House to be built by the DCNR in the corner of the parking lot.

A unique design feature has the parking lot sitting atop a 2' – 3' deep "reservoir" designed to collect the surrounding surface water after it seeps through its pervious asphalt surface, slowly being released into the earth at its lowest level. The nature of the pervious pavement allows for this to happen.

As visitors exit their vehicles and make their way into the park, they will notice new sidewalks and stairs leading to the new Route 381 underpass. This underpass provides a safe way for pedestrians and kayakers alike to access the Visitor Center, waterfalls and points west of Route 381; they no longer must cross in front of moving vehicles in order to do so.

Other construction features and safety enhancements made during the second year of construction, starting back in September 2019, included the following:

  • Superstructure replacement of the Route 381 bridge over the Youghiogheny River – The new bridge deck surface will provide 2-11' travel lanes as well as a 10' wide shared use pedestrian and bike lane on one side of the bridge and a 7' wide shoulder area on the other side of the bridge.
  • Construction of the 10' high x 16' wide underpass mentioned above.
  • Widening of Route 381 from Sugarloaf Road to the Yough River Bridge to provide both sidewalks and parking spaces to BOTH sides of Route 381.
  • Construction of a new bike path, between Sherman Street and the bridge, which will have its own dedicated alignment, not having to share the road with motorists. The surface of this bike path will consist of pervious asphalt like that of the new Upper Fall parking lot mentioned above.

One of the many challenges of working through the winter months involved concrete curing. Maintaining the proper cure temperature is critical in ensuring the quality of the concrete, and the bridge. To ensure the specified curing temperature of the concrete is maintained between 50 – 80 degrees, the Contractor had to "tent-in" the underside of the bridge deck. This was achieved by placing plastic from one side of the bridge to the other side. Once tented, two 1,000,000 btu propane heaters were required to heat the 340' long bridge deck. These heaters had to be monitored 24/7 to ensure they were ON and working. Likewise, concrete temperatures had to be monitored 24/7 as well. Due to the time of year the concrete was placed, this meant having to work on both Christmas and New Year's Days! Similar arrangements were made for work at the Underpass as well.

As winter was about to turn to spring, the coronavirus pandemic hit Pennsylvania. In conjunction with the Governor's order, PennDOT quickly placed construction projects on hold to minimize exposure to all those involved. On March 17, job operations were paused. Over the course of the next two weeks, statewide teams were formed consisting of the department working with industry partners to develop a guide to restart highway construction projects, with a focus of avoiding the spread of COVID-19.

Due to the incredible success of these teams, the Ohiopyle Construction Project continued construction operations on April 6. The Ohiopyle Construction Project was given this early-start due to the "critical" nature Route 381 has with the community of Ohiopyle, various modes of transportation, and the state park. In the nine weeks that followed, Route 381 across the Youghiogheny River, through the Ohiopyle State Park reopened to unrestricted traffic flow.

The sound you heard coming from the project is a collective "OMG what a journey it's been" coming from the project team! It's truly been a collaborative effort for a job well done between the department, its DCNR counterpart, its contractor Plum Contracting, its project designer McCormick-Taylor, Ohiopyle Borough Officials and the many public and private utility companies involved with this project.

Long live the beauty of Ohiopyle and the roads, bridges and bike paths that get you there!

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