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Work planned on Route 981 bridge in Latrobe

Jeff Himler
| Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

Motorists traveling through Latrobe will have to adjust to new traffic patterns in 2017 when work begins on resurfacing the Route 981 bridge across Loyalhanna Creek.

Concerns about traffic impacts and about the aesthetics associated with the project were aired Thursday when PennDOT unveiled its plans in Latrobe City Council chambers.

Officials reassured representatives from Westmoreland County Community College and from the Castle Co-Packers bottling company, two businesses close to the bridge, that they will continue to have access from Route 981 (Lloyd Avenue) during rehabilitation of the aging span. But Owen Beachy, spokesman for design consultant The EADS Group, explained detours will be in place during the resurfacing phase of the project, expected to occur during the 2017 construction season.

According to Beachy, one lane of traffic will be maintained for most motorists heading north across the bridge into downtown Latrobe, but all southbound traffic will be rerouted. The proposed official detour will divert motorists along Industrial Boulevard and routes 982 and 30, though Latrobe officials noted a much shorter route may be found through the city's North Side.

Additional restrictions may apply for heavy trucks.

“We want to keep truck traffic northbound and southbound out of the project work zone,” Beachy said.

The high volume of traffic on the bridge — 17,000 vehicles per day, according to a 2011 study — prompted planners to favor a detour over maintaining two-way traffic with temporary signals, which was predicted to delay motorists 15 minutes to a half hour during the peak time from 2 to 7 p.m., Beachy said: “We felt that was unacceptable.”

While the detours could create a temporary headache for downtown businesses and those departing events such as the Latrobe Farmers Market, Latrobe Mayor Rosemarie Wolford said the inconvenience will be outweighed by the long-term benefit of preserving and enhancing the concrete arch bridge, which serves as the city's main gateway. “I'm excited about it,” she said.

Beachy noted planners initially thought they'd have to replace the 1896 span, which was last renovated in the 1950s. But, he said, a closer inspection revealed that “the bones of the structure are actually in pretty good shape” and convinced engineers it would be better to simply replace the asphalt “skin” covering the concrete.

Aesthetic and safety updates are planned, including installation of period lighting and a barrier that will separate pedestrians from traffic.

Jarod Trunzo, executive director of the Latrobe Community Revitalization Program, expressed concern that the barrier not block motorists' view of the improved Loyalhanna waters, no longer marred by an unappealing orange discoloration. PennDOT project manager Sean Sepe said the concrete base of the barrier need be no higher than 2 feet, 8 inches, which should still allow a scenic view for motorists.

Wolford is organizing a focus group to give project planners with input on aesthetics.

According to Sepe, the state will provide funding for the improvements, which are estimated to cost between $2 million and $5 million. Bids are to be let in July, with construction to be completed by November 2017.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6622 or jhimler@tribweb.com.

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