North Hills Busway
North Hills Expressway HOV Lanes
These are the high occupancy vehicle lanes, which happen to be the only ones in Pennsylvania, that are located in the middle of Interstate 279 and Interstate 579 from Pittsburgh into the northern suburbs. The lanes were a part of the Parkway North project and were opened in 1989 when the expressway opened. This is the only busway that allows car onto the right-of-way and provides express bus service between downtown and the North Hills. The HOV lanes can be accessed from downtown Pittsburgh, the North Shore, McKnight Road, Perrysville Avenue, and I-279 southbound.
The worst accident to occur on the HOV lanes occurred on August 25, 1995. Six people going to lunch became confused and entered the lanes heading outbound when they were set up for inbound traffic. The car, driven by Eleanor Siwicki of Pittsburgh made it as far as Saint Boniface Church before colliding head-on with a pickup truck driven by James Christy of Crafton Heights. Siwicki and four of her five passengers were killed as well as a passenger in Christy's truck. Christy and Bobbi Jo Shackelford, who was riding in the car driven by Siwicki, were both seriously injured. PennDOT employee William D. Snyder, who was found to be under the influence of trace amounts of opiates from a prescribed cough syrup, cocaine and marijuana at the time, was fired four days after he admitted that he reversed the order for closing and opening the access gates which allowed traffic to flow in both directions simultaneously. Snyder pleaded guilty to six counts of involuntary manslaughter and two counts of reckless endangerment. During his sentencing in September 1996 where he was sentenced to seven and one-half to 34 years behind bars, he asked the victims' families "to forgive him" but added that "PennDOT was 90 percent at fault."
On June 12, 2003, Snyder sent an apology letter to several media outlets and then conducted a phone interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review the following day from the minimum-security State Regional Correctional Facility at Mercer in Mercer County where he was incarcerated. "It's difficult. I dwell on what I've done," going on to add, "I'm very remorseful. It was a tragic accident. I didn't mean to do this." He looked at his one-page letter, which he had written over the previous three months, as a way to close the door on a day the families of the victims say they can't forget. "From the very moment I became aware that I was responsible for causing an accident, I was remorseful and shocked," Snyder wrote in the one-page letter. "Upon learning that 6 lives were lost and 2 people were critically injured, words cannot properly relate the level of horror, sorrow, anguish, guilt, confusion and panic that came over me and is with me to this day." In his letter, and unlike at his sentencing, Snyder placed the blame squarely on himself, admitting he was "irresponsible and negligent" and that the drugs in his system at the time were "contributing factors in my lack of proper thought processes at that most critical and devastating time." Adding that "I would never knowingly or willingly put anyone's or anything's life in danger." He told the Tribune-Review reporter that "It's been bothering me. I just felt I needed to do this," said Snyder. "I never really got to apologize to the families at my sentencing. I just wanted to do it publicly for the families and PennDOT and my family."
Some of the families questioned whether Snyder had ulterior motives for his statement because his minimum sentence was expiring on November 27 of that year. The Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole states that each inmate eligible for parole is guaranteed an interview with a parole review board three months before the end of their minimum sentence, and the preparation process begins six month prior which would have been May 2003 for Snyder. "My thoughts are he's using it to get out of jail," said John Ulanowicz, whose 16-year-old son, Daniel, died in the crash. "He should be in jail for the rest of his life. He put them there in their graves." Alice Ann Scheibel lost both her daughter Nancy, and sister Deborah Karlik in the tragedy, said "I know he's getting up for his parole. If he's not on his best behavior, he'll be turned down." She added, "How can I forgive this? I love my sister and daughter. How can I forgive him over time?" Snyder responded to the questioning of his sincerity by saying, "I would like to get out jail, no doubt, but this is no ploy or no manipulating on my part. It's just closure for me. This is something I'll live with until the day that I die." Snyder worked in the storeroom of the prison, loading and unloading supply trucks, and taking part in drug and alcohol, character development, stress and anger, citizenship and life skills programs. He told the reporter, "I've changed my life around," he said. "I look at things different." Scheibel feels the same way. "When I turn that radio on every morning and they talk about the HOV lane, it's there," she said. "I can't even drive into the city."
William Snyder was eventually granted parole and released on June 2, 2011. The lanes were closed immediately after the accident for several safety upgrades, but it didn't help ridership as it dropped to more than 1,000 vehicles per day. Wrong-way accidents are unheard of today; however, this hasn't helped to increase the number of users.
Improvements to the HOV lanes were unveiled on May 18, 2006 in the form of a $770,000 automated "fast-acting" gate system which were the latest in a series of improvements such as CCTV cameras, automated interlocks on permanent gates, and improved signage since the 1995 accident. The new gates were down during morning rush hours with overhead sensors to detect approaching inbound vehicles. If one is detected, the gate will raise to allow it to pass. During afternoon rush hours and weekends when the HOV lanes are open in the outbound direction, so the gates will be up.
The first major rehabilitation project on the Parkway North began on April 17, 2017 starting first in the southbound direction. "The commonwealth is committed to providing investments for a safe and reliable transportation system," said Governor Tom Wolf. "The I-279 Parkway North project will deliver quality improvements for tens of thousands of travelers who use the roadway on a daily basis." Work included concrete patching and overlay, preservation of 30 bridges and 49 overhead sign structures, repair to 29 walls, ramp repairs, lighting improvements, sign updates, guide rail and drainage improvements, and the installation of an anti-icing system on the bridges at the McKnight Road interchange. To allow for construction, the HOV lanes were closed from April 10 to April 16 to allow time to reconfigure travel lanes for the closure. One lane of southbound traffic was crossed over into the northbound lanes at Exit 8 with both southbound lanes shifted into the HOV lanes at Exit 5 before rejoining the mainline lanes south of McKnight Road near Venture Street. Normal traffic patterns resumed on August 29. The same closure was implemented for northbound traffic on March 11, 2018, with traffic shifted into the HOV lanes south of McKnight Road to Exit 8, but the left lane of traffic was shifted to the southbound side while the right lane provided access to all of the exits. Work then switched to the northbound direction in 2018 and included reconfiguring the ramp from Interstate 579 to Interstate 279 to reduce the merging "crunch" at that location, lengthening the on-ramps from Madison Avenue and Perrysville Avenue, and resurfacing PA 28 between Anderson Street and Chestnut Street. The HOV lanes reopened for the last segment of work reopened to traffic on August 31, 2018. The final closure of the HOV lanes began April 2, 2019 in order for concrete patching, drainage modification, resurfacing, installation of anti-icing system, expansion dam repairs, rebuilding of mountable curbs and islands, installation of fast-acting gates at entry/exit points, installation of new lane control system overhead signs, ITS improvements, and installation of pavement markers. The HOV lanes reopened on June 17, 2019 with the exception of the ramp to Perrysville Avenue/Park-and-Ride which reopened on July 3 which signaled the end of the $87.94 million project.
When the Coronavirus, or COVID-19, pandemic swept into the country in March 2020, PennDOT took measures to stem the spread to their employees and staff. All rest areas and welcome centers and Driver License and Photo License centers were closed for two weeks, and construction projects on roads under the Department of Transportation's jurisdiction were stopped as of Tuesday, March 17. PennDOT District 11 decided to indefinitely close the HOV lanes for public safety purposes as well. District Spokesman Steve Cowan said it was necessary as staff were working and have limited access to all of the normal traffic cameras. "We won't have the compliment of maintenance personnel on the ground to keep the HOV lanes open to the level of safeness that we are comfortable with. Additionally, we are anticipating much lower traffic volumes." The closure was to have begun at 5 AM on March 17, but District 11 decided to keep them closed after a fatal accident took place Monday evening. The lanes reopened to northbound traffic on May 21, 2021. Studies showed that more traffic was moving in that direction versus southbound at the time, but that a move back to bi-directional usage would be eventually taken once it was warranted. The HOV lanes reopened to inbound traffic for the morning commute on August 4, 2021.
North Hills Busway/North Hills Expressway HOV Lanes Map
HOV Lanes - PennDOT
I-279 HOV - Port Authority of Allegheny County
Southern Terminus (I-579):
|Reedsdale Street in Pittsburgh
Bedford Avenue in Pittsburgh
|I-279 in Perrysville
North Hills Busway
North Hills Expressway HOV Lanes
412-255-1350 (Port Authority Police)