Kecksburg man builds wall to protect home from motorists
By A.J. Panian
Published: Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Locals have dubbed it “the great wall of Kecksburg.”
Ross Howard said the curved brick structure he built to border his 18th century-era home along Kecksburg Road in the Mt. Pleasant Township village is a necessary form of protection against a never-ending stream of dangerous traffic.
“We've had dozens of accidents here over time,” Howard said.
More than one tractor-trailer has come to rest in the soft soil of Howard's backyard, he said.
“It's an ongoing problem, it really is,” he said.
In response, Howard said, he has invested more than $20,000 in materials and countless hours of hard labor with friends and family in the wall to stop runaway vehicles from entering his property or the log home he shares with his wife, Leslie Ann.
Howard's wall, which is 3 feet high and is lit at night, is highly visible to passing motorists at the junction of Kecksburg Road and State Route 982.
Howard, friends and community officials constructed the brick structure just north of his house in September.
“There are 50 tons of concrete in there,” Howard said.
Howard completed previous work in 2000 to build a 100-ton barrier of stone at the intersection of Route 982 and Clay Pike Road bordering his property just south of his house.
He and relatives also installed a guiderail to provide maximum protection against oncoming traffic colliding with the two-story structure.
“The main problem is the speeding traffic through here,” he said.
Another problem, Howard said, involves GPS, which leads tractor-trailer drivers hauling cargo to companies in the Latrobe area through Kecksburg from the Donegal exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Since the devices are often programmed to guide motorists on the shortest possible route, truckers often travel through Kecksburg where the roads are not wide enough to accommodate the vehicles without causing such property damage, Howard said.
“Those truck drivers should really be taking (state Route) 711 North to Route 30 and heading west to Latrobe, not coming through here,” he said.
In summer of 2012, state Rep. Mike Reese (R-Mt. Pleasant Township) met with Howard and several other area residents to analyze what needed to be done to make the area safer.
“It's a dangerous stretch of road, just because of how it is set up,” Reese said.
Reese wrote a letter to Joe Szczur of PennDOT District 12.
The letter asked for a number of requests based on input from affected residents and the township's board of supervisors.
Some of the requests made included:
• Replacement of a Route 982 sign at the junction of Route 982 and Clay Pike Road, which had been missing for some time;
• Installation of at least one “stop ahead” sign along the southbound approach of Route 982 to Kecksburg Road encouraging motorists to slow their vehicles;
• Installation of larger stop signs on both the northbound and southbound approaches of Route 982 to Kecksburg Road and Clay Pike Road;
• Consideration of ways to draw more attention to existing signs prohibiting 102-inch twins and 102-inch trailers of more than 281/2 feet in length at the nearby intersections of Route 982 and Route 130, and Route 982 and Route 31, respectively.
“Truck drivers are either not seeing the signs or are neglecting the signs and traveling this portion of Route 982,” wrote Reese in his letter, in which he also included a photo of a trailer 53 feet in length colliding with one of Howard's previous retaining walls.
In response, Reese said, PennDOT officials took the letter seriously.
“This is one of the situations where PennDOT deserves a lot of credit; they met every request we put out there,” Reese said.
Reese said he also worked with Terri Grabiak Knupp, area manager of FirstEnergy/West Penn Power, to have a utilty pole located along the troubled stretch of road moved back farther from the path of traffic.
“That was a good move,” said Brian Howard, Ross's first cousin, who also lives along the road in a home near the pole.
Ross Howard lauded Reese for the putting into motion the work done there by both PennDOT and FirstEnergy.
“Mike Reese has been very good about getting problems solved here,” Howard said. “His efforts have helped us a lot.”
However, motorists' disregard for such steps and the posted 35 mile-per-hour speed limit signs, have caused problems there to persist, Brian Howard added.
“I think the biggest thing that needs to be done in this town is speed-limit control. We've tried to get state police out here, but they tell us they have limited manpower,” he said.
“I believe that, in our little town here, the times and conditions of 2014 have passed us up. Kecksburg can no longer hold the traffic.”
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or email@example.com.
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