Arterial Relations: Widening a one-mile stretch of Pennsylvania roadway far from routine
The widening of a one-mile stretch of Park Avenue roadway near Altoona, Pa., was far from routine. The nine-year project impacted more than 80 properties – businesses and residences – resulted in more than 35 right-of-way acquisitions and bordered active sports, amusement, and recreational facilities. Despite these challenges, the project, completed in late 2010, garnered strong public and property-owner support, the result of extensive public outreach.
Park Avenue primarily serves the Lakemont section of Logan Township on the outskirts of Altoona between State Route 36 and Interstate 99. It is the primary access road to several popular regional attractions, including Blair County Ballpark, home of the Double-A Altoona Curve baseball team, Lakemont Park, with the world’s oldest roller coaster and amusement rides, an office park and conference center, and a skating rink.
Existing situation. Several factors led the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) District 9-0 to initiate improvements along the route. Plans had been announced for a new shopping center, and additional commercial development sites were proposed at the northern end of the roadway, which would create greater traffic demands on the local roadway network in Logan Township.
In addition, the township had recently rezoned the residential neighborhood abutting Park Avenue to commercial, and it was anticipated that a 60% change in use would occur over the next 20 years. This was at a time when traffic from Interstate 99 heading to regional attractions on Park Avenue was often stopped on the thru lanes of the Interstate while waiting to exit at the Frankstown Road interchange. A Project Needs Study showed that, when combined with anticipated traffic growth based on historical data from the region, the planned commercial growth in the area would increase Park Avenue traffic from 6,000 to 7,000 daily trips at the time of design to nearly 13,000 daily trips by the year 2030.
The central challenge to improving Park Avenue traffic conditions was control of vehicular access to the roadway and protection of pedestrians in a manner that at the same time would accommodate higher running speeds. The original corridor had nearly 30 access points, was lined with residences along the eastern side, and had a speed limit of 25 mph. In addition, at the southern end of the corridor, traffic wove through residential areas to reach State Route 36. Recreational events prompted some local landowners to offer private parking, contributing further to traffic congestion and safety concerns.
Gaining public support. It was evident that the widening of Park Avenue would have a sizeable impact on the surrounding community. Keeping the public involved and informed was critical to maintaining a positive image for the project, the engineering profession, and the transportation industry as well as to moving the project forward. Much of the initial public outreach occurred between 2002 and 2006, before the advent of Facebook and Twitter. Therefore, traditional outreach methods were used.
Two groups with distinct concerns were the owners of the businesses and recreational venues along Park Avenue and those living in the residential area that would be directly or indirectly impacted by construction. PennDOT formed a Community Advisory Committee (CAC) at the outset of the project comprised of representatives from key community groups, including planners, local government officials, the residential community, businesses, emergency services, and public transportation.
Through careful facilitation of the CAC, the project team was able to convey to Lakemont residents that growth and development in the study area was imminent and that accepting change was in the best interest of the community as a whole. The group met with PennDOT and design team members regularly throughout the project development phase using a workshop format that allowed each representative to voice concerns and provide feedback. Design initiatives such as a linear park, biking/hiking trail, and bus pull-offs took shape with feedback from the CAC. Concerns such as driveway access and the temporary construction impacts on businesses were also successfully addressed.
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