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PennDOT revises I-70 plan to please business owners

| Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

PennDOT has added another segment to the Interstate 70 improvement project in New Stanton in an attempt to ease concerns expressed by community business leaders last summer.

Transportation officials from District 12 displayed revised drawings during an informational meeting Thursday in the borough fire hall.

About 100 people strolled through the fire hall during the afternoon, examining and pointing at maps for the estimated $50 million project.

Under the latest proposal, transporation officials will build a new interchange about 1,600 feet west of the current one.

They then will add Rachel Drive — currently an unpaved street on maps — and a roundabout near that interchange. Rachel Drive will connect with Bair Boulevard and West Byers Avenue.

During a July 3 meeting, business leaders on Byers Avenue expressed concerns that motorists would be diverted from their businesses because of an earlier design.

Rachel Duda, PennDOT assistant district executive for design, said she believes the Rachel Drive addition will lessen business worries, if not solve them completely.

“I think we won't be able to satisfy everybody,” she said, adding the project is necessary ”for the safety of the traveling public.”

David Bhanot of the Days Inn said PennDOT appears to have heard the businesses' concerns, but he still would like a more direct connection to Byers Avenue, his business and neighbors McDonald's, Howard Johnson, Eat'n Park and Sheetz.

“It's better than not having it at all,” he added of Rachel Drive.

If the design doesn't change, Bhanot speculated he might need to move his exterior business sign or put up a costly new one so that motorists can find his establishment easily.

Chuck Hallstein of MNJ Management of Pittsburgh, owner of the New Stanton McDonald's franchise, said he believes the designs will be revised again.

“I think it's a work in progress,” he said. “I think there's still a lot of folks looking at this, to make sure it's as good a plan as it can be.”

Under the latest proposal, the interchange has been shifted about 100 feet to the east from where it last was proposed.

The moving of the interchange on I-70 saves money because the bridge won't need to be as high and reduces concerns about a nearby wetlands, said Jerry Bando, PennDOT project manager.

PennDOT is in the middle of a $500 million, multiphase project to modernize I-70 from the West Virginia border to the New Stanton interchange. Most of the highway's entrances and exits were built in the 1950s.

In addition to exit and entrance ramps, the transportation agency is proposing widening the highway from four to six lanes in New Stanton. Two additional roundabouts on either side of I-70 are proposed.

A total 46 property owners would lose a portion of their land under the current design, said Michael Metrik of Arrow Land Solutions of Altoona, which will be acquiring rights of way for PennDOT.

Under current plans, two homes and two businesses — the Hempfield Hunt Club and Nets Electronics – would be demolished, he said.

His company will help the homeowners and businesses to find a new site in the area.

PennDOT's latest timetable calls for acquisition of rights of way and final design to occur in 2013-14.

Construction is slated for 2015-2018.

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or bstiles@tribweb.com.

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