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Highway project planned near turnpike exit in Donegal

| Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

PennDOT plans a highway project in Donegal to ease congestion near the Pennsylvania Turnpike exit and improve safety along the primary route through the township.

Work on the $20 million project, still in the design phase, is expected to begin in 2016 and will include adding a third lane from the turnpike exit to the Route 31 intersection with Route 381, PennDOT District 12 spokeswoman Valerie Petersen said. Bids are expected to be let in 2015.

Route 31 is the primary highway for local traffic in Donegal Township.

A traffic signal will be added at the turnpike exit. PennDOT is considering including other signals as part of the project but hasn't finalized those locations, Petersen said.

Local business officials who hosted a project preview last week said the work includes much-needed improvements in a corridor with difficult grades and infrastructure.

“It's a lot of improvements in terms of getting people to local businesses,” said D. Merle Skinner, president of the Mountain Laurel Chamber of Commerce. “Leaf season, ski season and Ligonier Days draw a lot of traffic to the area.”

Businesses in the area depend on people traveling to Seven Springs and Hidden Valley ski resorts as well as local traffic to stay afloat. The work, expected to take two years, “will be tough to live through,” Skinner said.

Business owners like Joe Sarnelli, who has operated a market and other businesses along Route 31 for more than 36 years, agreed the project is needed, especially with the increased numbers of cars and trucks using the road.

“Traffic is building up, no doubt about it,” said Sarnelli, 76, of Jones Mills. “It needs to be done, but I don't want to lose half my parking lot.”

Sarnelli, who attended the chamber's preview, said he is “not against the project” but is “for it being done sensibly.”

Public meetings on the project are expected to be held in March or April, chamber officials said.

Donegal Township officials will discuss their concerns about the project with PennDOT officials during a meeting next week.

“Traffic does tend to get a little more congested at times here, but when you (compare) traffic in Greensburg, we don't have traffic,” said Supervisor Tom Stull.

The township also is concerned about the cost of additional traffic lights that it will have to shoulder, he said.

As part of the project, PennDOT will relocate its salt stockpile and combine it with the turnpike's stockpile near Brady's Restaurant along Route 31. That move will result in cost savings, Petersen said.

Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or csmith@tribweb.com.

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