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September 14, 2013

SUNDAY ISSUE: PennDOT priorities

VERNON TOWNSHIP — Should the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spend $200,000 on a transportation and land use study for Routes 322, 19 and 98 when it doesn’t have the money to maintain bridges and roads in Crawford County?

That’s the question Republican state Rep. Brad Roae is asking.

The recently announced study by PennDOT is meant to evaluate traffic conditions and development potential expected to conclude by August 2014, according to Mark Nicholson, PennDOT project manager and engineer.

“We’re looking at the amount of congestion folks are dealing with in addition to the recent developments going on,” he said. “The study will encompass impacts to the corridor.”

The cost and timing of the study is a main concern for Roae, who criticized PennDOT’s priorities with projects such as dilapidated bridges looming over the county.

“I think the public would rather have bridges fixed than a study done,” he wrote in response to PennDOT’s announcement. “Why can’t we fix the bridges now and do the study later? Bridges need to be the priority.

“If the study indicates there is too much traffic or too little traffic, even if asked, people will not stop driving there or start driving there,” Roae wrote. “It is a commercial district from the end of the Smock Bridge almost to Conneaut Lake. It is not likely the study will determine a residential neighborhood should be built within all the retail stores.”

Nicholson claims the study is part of PennDOT’s larger picture and will not conflict with any other project in the district.

“The cost is all-inclusive typical for this magnitude of study,” Nicholson said. “It’s not holding up any projects. It’s just a small piece of our overall priority to improve transportation.”

The main development moving the project along is the anticipated medical complex Vernon Place, which township officials believe will bring more public and commercial attention to the corridor.

PennDOT officials say the study is taking place over the fall and spring to gauge traffic and potential impacts during the school season.

Vernon Township supervisors, having expressed a positive reaction during their regular monthly meetings, publicized their support of the study in hopes of continuing area development and improving traffic flow down the corridor.

“Things get done after these studies; it’s an exciting thing,” said David Stone, township manager, who expects the final recommendations to become spending priorities. “We’re also hoping to promote partnerships between private businesses to help build access roads and things like that.”

The final report could include recommendations for additional turning lanes, marginal access roads between developments and traffic light relocation depending on the data collected, according to Nicholson.

“There have been concerns about driveway locations and talk about consolidation for fewer access points,” he said. “More access points generally lead to more highway collisions.”

PennDOT officials plan to conduct several meetings with local officials and eventually the general public in the coming months to present findings and elicit feedback regarding potential goals, needs and concerns.

PennDOT expects the study costs to cover data collection by national engineering firm Whitman, Requardt & Associates LLP, an inventory of roads, walkways and signals, sponsoring public involvement meetings, a conclusive report and more.

Nicholson doesn’t anticipate any major road realignments or lane widening but believes the study may recommend different timing for traffic signals.

“The general reaction we’re getting from officials has been very positive,” he said. “They’re glad it’s taking place and I think they see the value in its potential to help make decisions for future developments.”

As a result, Nicholson emphasized the importance of corridor stakeholders, key business owners and residents voicing their opinions when the time comes.

Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kfekos@meadvilletribune.com.

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