A decision on the route of the North Street Connector is less than a month away, and area resident Dominic Mottillo has his own opinions on where the project should go: Away.

The Boynton Street resident doesn’t believe the connector, which will run between North Street and the French Creek Parkway, will ease traffic problems in downtown Meadville. He also thinks the road will change the atmosphere in his neighborhood.

But he knows that the connector will become a reality, so Mottillo has joined 24 of his neighbors in signing a petition that would keep it as far as possible from their homes.

The petition endorses a route that goes north of Sherry Distributors so that it has less of an impact on the neighborhood, which is south of North Street and west of Water Street.

The petition was recently sent to city and state Department of Transportation officials. PennDOT is in charge of the project.

The North Street Connector is expected to cost $2.6 million. It would include a new four-way intersection with a traffic light at the parkway.

The connector is designed to remove heavy truck traffic from downtown streets, such as Park Avenue and Water Street, and put it on North Street. Currently, many big trucks use Park or Water to get to North, causing backups and delays when they turn onto North from another downtown road.

Mottillo, who was unable to attend public meetings on the issue last year, lives on Boynton, which runs parallel to and a block south of where the connector would go.

He doesn’t see the need for the connector. “I don’t really see a problem” with downtown traffic, he said. “I don’t see what good it’s going to do.”

He also questioned who would gain from the venture. “Who’s going to benefit? Not the people who are living here, not the homeowners.”

He said the change would increase traffic in his neighborhood. “It used to be a nice, quiet neighborhood,” he said. “It’s going to increase.”

And he feared his house would be targeted for demolition. “They want to take my house,” he said.

Fears unfounded?

But Michael McMullen, PennDOT’s manager for the project, said the two plans now under consideration don’t include tearing down any homes on the south side of Boynton.

He said two alternates that have since been killed would have swung south of Sherry Distributors and would have taken several homes on Boynton, which appears to be the case to which Mottillo was referring.

At a November public meeting, PennDOT officials presented the preferred route, which goes through the current Sherry’s site. However, members of the public attending the meeting suggested moving the route to just north of Sherry’s, the same path advocated by Mottillo and the other petitioners. As a result, PennDOT is considering that route. Officials are calculating the costs to relocate the homes and businesses that would be impacted, and weighing it against the costs of the other route.

“No matter what alternative, there are some businesses and homes that we’ll have to relocate,” McMullen said. “Eco-nomics is going to play a key role here on what alternative we go with. We’re going to do a full evaluation of the alternative the public wanted us to consider.”

But, he cautioned, “Engineering and environmental factors carry more weight than public opinion. Public opinion is based on a lot of emotion. We have to sift through that. If there’s a suggestion from the public that makes good sense from a safety perspective, you can tie that back into engineering.”

What would be lost?

McMullen said the set of buildings that would be eliminated west of Market depends on the plan.

In one, the northerly route the petition-signers advocate, the Allstate insurance building, a medical practice and two other buildings between Market and Water and four residences on the west side of Water would be demolished.

In the other, Sherry’s and perhaps two Boynton Street homes would be demolished. Those homes, which are on the north side of Boynton, would go only if officials proceed with a North-Boynton link. “That’s still up in the air,” McMullen said of the link. “There were a lot of concerns from residents in the neighborhood. That’s something we could easily eliminate.”

He said the city had suggested connecting Boynton with North because it could ease truck traffic flow on Water Street.

Other buildings that may be lost in the project are the Porter Consulting Engineers office and Country Fair, both at North’s intersection with North Main Street.

He said officials will do their best to keep Country Fair. “If we can somehow adjust our alignment there a little bit, we’re going to make it,” he said, but added that the engineers’ office will probably go because it’s so close to the edge of North.

What’s next?

Barring major resistance from the community, the public input portion of the planning is done, McMullen said. The next step is to meet with city officials to finalize discussion, then complete other reviews.

The decision on the final alignment should be completed in the next month or so.

They may have a public forum on the design of a gateway at the North-parkway intersection welcoming people into the city. PennDOT is working with Allegheny College professor Amara Geffen on that design.

Once that’s determined, they will move forward with final design, approvals, land acquisitions and resident and business relocations. That will take at least 15 months, pushing construction to 2008 at the earliest.

Gary Johnson can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at gjohnson@meadvilletribune.com

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