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Freedom Road widening between Cranberry, Beaver County to start this summer

| Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, 3:15 p.m.

Motorists traveling from Route 65 in Beaver County to Cranberry for years have had to negotiate sharp bends and steep hills on Crows Run or Freedom-Crider roads, or settle for a longer route.

That's about to change. PennDOT is to begin work this summer on a Freedom Road upgrade, and the result could impact traffic in Cranberry substantially.

“We are very aware,” Cranberry Manager Jerry Andree said of the $84 million project. “This has been talked about for a long time, and now that Beaver County has secured the funding, it is definitely going to happen.”

PennDOT District 11 spokesman Steve Cowan said environmental permits should be submitted within the next week. PennDOT is acquiring rights-of-way, and some utilities information is needed before construction begins.

Work tentatively is scheduled to be completed by 2019.

The new wider, straighter road will begin at an expanded interchange along Route 65 near the Conway Rail Yards. Generally, it will follow the current path of Crows Run Road to the intersection of Freedom-Crider and Park Quarry Roads, a distance of about 1.7 miles.

From there, the road will extend 1.8 miles to the intersection with state Route 989 in New Sewickley. Less than three miles beyond there, the road crosses into Butler County and becomes a primary artery in Cranberry.

With Beaver County hoping to receive an economic boost from Shell Corp.'s construction of a $2.1 billion ethane cracker plant in Potter, the improved road could bring benefits to both ends. Shell hasn't officially committed to building the plant, but has spent millions on land acquisition, site preparation and infrastructure improvements.

“If the cracker plant is built, there is going to be a lot of commerce flowing between Beaver County and Cranberry,” Andree said. “We have to be sure we are prepared to handle it.”

That flow can't begin soon enough for Conway Mayor Debbie Rose.

“It is obviously long overdue,” Rose said of the road work. “It will be great to have a direct route, not just to Cranberry, but to the Turnpike and Interstate 79 as well. For convenience and from a safety standpoint, it will be a big improvement.”

Rose said the road could breathe new life into once-thriving Beaver County commercial centers that have fallen on hard times, including Northern Lights Shopping Center in her borough.

“I think anytime you make it easier and safer to get somewhere, you open up a business to a whole new clientele or customer base,” Rose said. “I absolutely believe that Northern Lights can be great again.”

On the Cranberry end, Andree said, improvements for Freedom Road are in the works and township officials have kept in touch with PennDOT.

“A lot of the design work on our end is already done. It might just force us to speed up things a little bit,” he said.

Among planned improvements in Cranberry is replacement of the bridge that carries Freedom Road over the Pennsylvania Turnpike. That $8.5 million project, a joint effort between PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, will widen the bridge to five lanes. Work is expected to begin in 2017.

According to a PennDOT timeline, a more direct route from the Ohio River area to Cranberry was proposed more than 50 years ago. In the 1980s and ‘90s a Crows Run Project that would have involved an expressway was planned, but that project was terminated in 2002.Design work on the Freedom Road upgrade began the following year. A funding shortfall forced the project to be put on hold in 2008, but planning resumed after passage of a state transportation funding bill last year.

Vince Townley is a staff writer for the Tribune-Review. Reach him at 724-772-6364 or vtownley@tribweb.com.

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