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Apollo seeks more grants, donations to cover intersection improvements

| Tuesday, July 30, 2013, 1:31 a.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Apollo Council is seeking grant money to offset higher than expected bids to inprove handicapped access and signals at the intersection of Route 66 and Kiski Avenue at the end of the Leonard Miller Bridge on July 29, 2013.

Traffic on the Roaring Run Trail is steadily increasing through Apollo, including where the trail crosses what is said to be the second busiest intersection in Armstrong County.

Borough officials are working to get more money for safety improvements at Routes 56 and 66 after bids came in higher than the funding originally available.

More money has to be found before deadlines expire for grant money the borough already has for the project, which would improve handicapped ramps and pedestrian crossing signals at the intersection.

“We're begging for money is what we're doing,” council President David Heffernan said.

At a special meeting Monday, council approved applying to Armstrong County for about $20,000 from the county's liquid fuels fund.

That would cover the difference between money the borough already has available from the county and PennDOT, and the separate, lowest bids for the ramps and signals.

The borough hopes to have an answer from the county on Thursday. Commissioners meet that morning; Apollo Council meets that night.

While asking for all the money needed, Heffernan said the borough is not expecting to get it.

The borough has been told the most the county would have available is about $4,800 — leaving a shortfall of about $15,200.

The borough is looking for money in its own accounts. About $10,000 in payments from fees on Marcellus shale drilling could go toward the project.

Looking to trail group for help

The borough also is asking for help from the Roaring Run Watershed Association, which maintains the recreational trail and nature reserve.

Safety for trail users made improving the intersection a higher priority, according to Heffernan.

Contacted after council's meeting, Roaring Run President Neill Andritz said he expects the organization to contribute something toward the project.

That's despite some recent rocky relations between the borough and the trail group over a parking lot near the intersection. Heffernan wants the borough to install parking meters; the trail group opposes that.

Kicking in money for the project will be discussed at a Roaring Run board meeting on Aug. 6, Andritz said.

The trail was extended through the borough within the past two years, and traffic on it has been increasing, Andritz said.

“Of course, we want the safest possible intersection for our trail users,” he said. “That's something we're going to look at at the board meeting.”

Heffernan said the intersection, as it is, is dangerous. Some residents, he said, avoid it entirely.

“What's there is not satisfactory,” he said. “I want that intersection as safe as humanly possible.”

Existing handicapped ramps at the intersection do not meet current requirements, he said.

There are no crosswalks to alert drivers, and pedestrians often find they don't have enough time to get across — where the trail crosses, the road is three lanes wide.

“I'm no spring chicken,” Heffernan said, “but it's pretty bad when I can't get across before the lights change.”

New crossing signals would count down the time available to cross, and crosswalks would be painted.

Andritz said Roaring Run raised money with two recent successful events.

He could not say how much the group may give.

“Money is extremely tight as you know with most nonprofits,” he said.

Seeking PennDOT grant

The borough is also trying to get more money from PennDOT. Heffernan said the agency should be motivated to help now; otherwise, PennDOT will have to pay the entire cost for the ramps when the intersection is resurfaced in three years.

To get the project moving, Heffernan raised the possibility of the borough taking out a small loan.

That met with resistance from other council members, most notably Vice President Cindee Virostek, who said, “No,” to the idea of a loan.

Council will soon begin work on the borough's 2014 budget, and its financial picture will become clearer. A loan could be paid off quickly, or the borough at worst would be left with a small payment, Heffernan said.

The borough needs to award contracts for the projects soon so that contractors, backed up by this summer's wet weather, can get started.

Project completion deadlines exist for the grant money already received, although exactly when those deadlines are was not immediately clear Monday night.

“If we don't get something started pretty quick, we'll be in trouble,” Heffernan said.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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