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Bridge work a priority for PennDOT in Westmoreland

| Thursday, April 17, 2014, 11:21 p.m.

State highway officials Thursday updated plans for improvements along highways in Westmoreland County but said the list of projects is longer than the supply of money.

Even with the $61.2 million that District 12 is expected to get from Act 89 — which will fund 12 highway and bridge projects in Westmoreland, Washington, Fayette and Greene counties — the local PennDOT district has 12 years' worth of road and bridge projects it wants to do in the four counties. This is in addition to whatever projects arise in the meantime, Joseph Szczur , executive of District 12, told about 50 local government officials and business representatives at a meeting at St. Vincent College in Unity.

“It's not going to happen overnight,” Szczur said.

Within District 12, Szczur said the extra money will fund repairs on 37 extra bridges, enabling the lifting of weight restrictions PennDOT placed on the structures last year. About 22 percent of the bridges within the four-county district are structurally deficient.

Forty miles of roadway improvement projects are planned for Westmoreland County at a cost of $13.5 million.

Act 89 generates money for the state by hiking fees for motorists.

The state's transportation improvement plan for 2015-2018 in the four-county district has a list of $485 million worth of projects, said Angela Saunders, planning and program manager for the PennDOT district. The funding includes about $185 million generated by Act 89.

Saunders said, however, that the previous transportation plan — 2013 to 2016 — projected $528 million worth of projects.

Among the projects on the drawing board are improvements to the Interstate 70 exit at New Stanton. PennDOT wants to move the exit 1,7000 feet westward of the existing interchange with a design to make the area safer, Rachel Duda, assistant district executive for design, said during the meeting.

The Derry Borough bridge carrying Route 217 over Norfolk Southern Corp.'s railroad tracks is number two on the risk assessment list, Duda said. The state intends to advertise for bids next February.

A section of Route 981 by the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity will be relocated to eliminate a hazardous intersection of three roads and to make an entrance for the airport's expansion, Duda said.

Throughout Westmoreland County, PennDOT maintenance crews will focus on pothole patching and sealing roads, said Tim Cook, PennDOT's maintenance manager for Westmoreland.

Because of severe winter weather, the road conditions “are the worst I've seen” in almost 20 years in roadway maintenance, Cook said.

Motorists will see crews sweeping the anti-skid material on bridges so it does not lead to deterioration and remove the rocks before painting lines on the roadways, Cook said.

Jason Rigone, executive director of the Westmore-land County Industrial Development Corp., said he was pleased with the planned road improvements in the county, and the extra money that PennDOT will receive will help do projects sooner.

But Rigone said he was disappointed that there has not been more progress on the proposed Laurel Valley Connector — a slip exit off the Pennsylvania Turnpike at Route 981 in Mt. Pleasant Township and improvements to Route 981 from the turnpike to the intersection of Route 30 at the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport.

“It's only been 40 years,” Rigone said, referring to discussion for the need for a quick connection between the airport and the turnpike.

Duda said there have been studies conducted on the proposed roadway.

“It's a huge project. It's definitely not forgotten,” Duda said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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