Arterial Relations: Widening a one-mile stretch of Pennsylvania roadway far from routine
The advisory committee was involved with the project team at every major milestone during the project development phase. Meetings at major decision-making points promoted a sense of trust with the committee and with residents. While accepting that the project was needed for the area’s economic stability and growth was not easy, a facilitated advisory group helped this project overcome public resistance, which under normal circumstances would have slowed the project considerably.
Context-sensitive solutions helped fit the Park Avenue project into the surrounding area, which consisted of the Blair County Ballpark, Lakemont Park, and the residential community. Presentation of before-and-after photographs/renderings of these solutions included a landscaped median treatment, pedestrian facilities, ornamental lighting, and bus-stop shelters. This project also included the installation of a multi-use recreational and pedestrian access trail.
Acquiring land. Because the proposed highway improvements impacted more than 80 properties, with 36 residential and one business displacement ultimately required, particular attention was given by PennDOT to the right-of-way acquisition process. A special right-of-way meeting was held with property owners who were directly affected by the project. A combination of public meetings and project newsletters kept everyone informed of the right-of-way acquisition process.
A project website posted newsletters and other project-related materials for easy public access. Despite the large number of properties affected, 86 percent of residents supported the project. This was a testimony to the successful efforts of PennDOT and the design team to effectively address concerns and put forth a project that reflected positively on the development process, the engineering profession, and associated efforts to integrate land planning with transportation improvements through a positive public involvement experience.
Creating a safer arterial. To improve safety and flow, a controlled-access system was introduced that reduced the number of intersections within the project limits from 12 to seven and realigned driveways to Lakemont attractions so that traffic could be channeled for better flow. Turnarounds were provided on roadways that are now closed to the new highway, and the seven designated intersections provide easy access to Park Avenue for local residents. A widened median provided left-turn lanes at intersections as well as refuge at certain locations for pedestrians crossing from the residential area to attend events. This reconfiguration of the corridor, along with the widening of the highway itself, allowed the speed limit to be increased to 40 mph, better accommodating through traffic during baseball games and the annual well-attended events at Lakemont Park.
With the higher speed limit, protection of pedestrians was also a concern, so a linear park was included in the design that serves as a buffer along the residential neighborhood east of Park Avenue. A hiking and biking trail runs through the park parallel to the roadway, but more removed from it than a typical sidewalk would be. Although none of these features represents design innovations, they were effectively combined to address the unique situation presented by a roadway running between a residential area and a heavily used commercial district.
Providing convenient access to Lakemont attractions while maintaining traffic flow was another challenge that the design team addressed using established techniques customized to the needs of the surroundings. Bus pull-offs, conveniently located for pedestrians attending events, were provided on both the northbound and southbound sides of the street. Curb ramps were provided at the pull-offs and at intersections for the benefit of those with disabilities. In addition, a widened sidewalk in front of Blair County Ballpark accommodated pedestrians waiting to enter the stadium or for trams that shuttle fans back and forth from a nearby parking garage.
Other improvements. The Park Avenue redesign required construction of a new bridge that
spans Brush Run near its southern terminus. An innovative design helped to expedite installation and minimize future bridge maintenance. Prior to construction of the new Park Avenue, traffic wove through a residential development at that end of the corridor, using a two-lane bridge farther east to cross the creek. The new bridge is a 90-ft, single-span structure that carries four lanes of traffic along a straight roadway across the stream. Its design was completed efficiently using a ‘hybrid’ approach: PennDOT-approved bridge design software, known as BRADD, was used to design the superstructure, and manual calculations were used to design the substructure, which consisted of integral abutments. These abutments eliminate the deck joints at the ends of the bridge that typically require maintenance and contribute to bridge deterioration.
With Brush Run and several tributaries in the project area, coordination with FEMA was an important element of this project. The new four-lane bridge over Brush Run was just 150 ft downstream of the dam that creates Lakemont Lake. The new bridge crossing created the need for a Conditional Letter of Map Revision submission to FEMA that documented floodplain impacts associated with proposed bridge construction and removal of the two-lane bridge. This important process was completed in a timely manner, and FEMA approval was obtained without negatively impacting the design schedule.
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