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PennDOT eyes 2015 for start of curve improvement near United High School

| Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, 7:02 p.m.

Spring or summer of 2015 is the target date for construction to begin on proposed realignment of a section of Route 56 in East Wheatfield Township.

The project is intended to reduce the severity of a large S-curve located between Armagh Borough and the United School District campus.

PennDOT unveiled drawings of the proposed United High School Curve Project at an open house event Oct. 2 at the high school.

PennDOT officials indicated safety is the primary factor driving the estimated $6.8 million project, noting that many coal trucks have overturned through the years while attempting to negotiate the curve.

Also, according to Mark Rozich, civil engineer manager for PennDOT Engineering District 10-0, entrances to the school campus, which straddles the highway, and two other major facilities along the 1.2-mile stretch of road are to be realigned to further enhance traffic safety.

As currently planned, the entrance lane to the United Elementary School would be shifted to line up with the intersection of Shellbark Road, which serves as the main entrance to United High School on the opposite side of the highway.

Further east in the project zone, entrances to the East Wheatfield Township office and garage and to a sewage treatment plant would be improved.

Superintendent Barbara Parkins indicated United school officials are pleased that the project will include a turning lane to assist motorists making left turns into the district schools — reducing the hazard of rear-end collisions. But, she said, project planners indicated conditions at the site don't support the district's request to have the intersection controlled by a traffic signal.

Rozich said the project also will improve the sight distance for motorists exiting from the schools by reducing the crest of a hill directly to the west that limits the view of oncoming eastbound traffic.

Some owners of properties at the eastern end of the project zone expressed concern about how recontouring of the highway might affect their land.

According to Rozich, much earth-moving will be involved, including cutting back an embankment along the eastbound lane of the highway that consists of waste from a previous strip-mining operation. When the project is finished, he said, several adjoining properties will be more level with the roadway than they currently are.

The speed limit on the stretch of highway is to remain at the existing 45 mph.

Rozich said construction of the project likely will stretch over two years, with work scheduled to have the least impact on the school district. He said a temporary traffic detour might be called for, as was the case in a recently completed highway improvement further west on Route 56, near Brush Valley.

At least one temporary roadway is planned, near the entrance to the sewage plant. Rozich said it is too soon to tell if one residential structure might be displaced as a result of the project.

When PennDOT widened and realigned a nearby stretch of Route 22, several sections of the old highway that were bypassed were turned over to local townships.

In the case of the Route 56 Curve, Rozich said, planners are hoping to simply vacate the bypassed portion of the highway and turn it over to owners of adjoining private properties rather than to the township.

He noted the section to be bypassed “only serves one or two individuals.”

Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or jhimler@tribweb.com.

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