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Green Tree sound barrier project left in limbo

| Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Green Tree residents whose backyards overlook the busy Parkway West hoped for years to get barrier walls to block some of the traffic noise and smells, but such a project depends on the Legislature passing a transportation funding bill, officials say.

Even then, getting the walls built could be years away.

Residents of Parkedge Road want PennDOT to build barriers along the south side of the parkway between the Carnegie and Green Tree interchanges, where only a few dozen feet of trees separate many backyards from the interstate.

Led by Councilman Ron Panza, a citizens' committee is working to convince lawmakers of the project's worth.

PennDOT District 11 Executive Dan Cessna on Tuesday delivered mixed news to the committee: Adding noise barriers could be part of a $115 million project to reconfigure the Carnegie and Green Tree interchanges, but that project lacks money unless lawmakers include it in a $2.5 billion transportation bill they might negotiate in mid-November.

“Currently, these projects are not funded, but they are on the ‘decade of investment' list that was in (Senate Bill) 1,” Cessna said.

The House adjourned for summer without approving the Senate bill to raise money for roads, bridges and mass transit. Supporters, including business and labor groups, say such an investment would keep Pennsylvania competitive. Critics say the plan to raise money by lifting the cap on the wholesale gasoline tax would lead to higher prices at the pump, effectively amounting to a tax increase.

PennDOT has not produced specific designs for the interchanges but its proposal would lengthen acceleration and deceleration lanes to meet federal standards for interstates.

Noise barriers alone are a lower priority than maintenance and safety improvements for PennDOT, but they could become part of the interchange project if the neighborhood qualifies, based on measurements of the highway's impact.

“The sound walls aren't a definite,” Cessna said. “We'd have to do a noise evaluation, but given the proximity of many of the houses ... we do believe it will likely qualify.”

The neighborhood was built in the 1950s, about the same time as the parkway but before major destinations such as shops in Robinson added traffic to the highway and long before its Interstate 376 designation.

Residents mounted efforts to get a barrier for decades, and Panza responded to a new call for action by organizing the committee in early 2012.

“We expected 10 to 15 people but we're bringing 75 to 80 people per meeting,” Panza said. “They have sound barriers protecting cow farms out by Harrisburg. Now it's our time to get some.”

A petition supporting funds for the interchange and noise barrier project will be available for residents to sign at the Green Tree Municipal Building, 10 W. Manilla Ave., until Monday. After that, the petition will be sent to legislators in Harrisburg.

Cessna said planning and getting necessary state and federal approvals for the interchange project — and accompanying sound barriers — would take at least three years, even if the transportation bill passes.

Panza said the committee would shift gears to persuading state representatives to pass something similar enough to the Senate bill that it would include the interchange projects. State Reps. Dan Deasy, D-Westwood, and Dan Miller, D-Mt. Lebaon, support the effort, he said.

“Lots of people are happy because we saw some light at the end of a long, long tunnel,” Panza said.

Matthew Santoni is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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