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Work being conducted for Route 711 improvements

| Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Representatives from Fayette Engineering have been conducting survey work along the Springfield Pike section of Route 711 on behalf of PennDOT as part of preliminary design work for road improvements.

Safety issues along Springfield Pike have long been a concern of residents who live along the stretch of roadway. Those concerns aren't unfounded.

In October of 2000, the home of Robert and Margaret Gemas located along Springfield Pike was demolished by a run-away truck that was filled with powdered milk.

On May 18, 2001, the house owned by Kenny and Nancy Hough and located next door to where the Gemas house previously stood, was rammed with a truck hauling slabs of glass.

The latest incident was recorded last November when a truck that had lost its brakes came down Springfield Pike and into the city of Connellsville before finally coming to rest on the West Side.

In its wake, the 18-wheeler left a mangled stop sign, nervous drivers who had scrambled to get out of its way, and a wreck that sent two people to the hospital.

All three incidents involved trucks driven by out-of-state drivers - people unfamiliar with the area.

But the safety issues of the roadway aren't new.

David L. Geary, Ph.D., whose family lived at 1316 Springfield Pike from 1919 to 1989, wrote a guest column for the Daily Courier in 2001, stating that two runaway tractor-trailers, one carrying a heavy load of potatoes and another of frozen fish, ran into the house above theirs in the 1950s and 1960s.

A runaway car just missed the same house and the one above it before plunging into a ravine, and a car hit the Geary family garage wall in 1953.

According to Jay Ofsanik, spokesman for PennDOT District 12, PennDOT is still in the preliminary stages of design work for the project, and although there is nothing concrete yet, PennDOT is tentatively looking into putting a truck runaway ramp as well as two pull off areas on the descent portion of Route 711.

"This is just tentative, but the truck runaway ramp would be where the truck tore off the porch of the residence (near the Hough's house), and we would have to acquire that property," said Ofsanik. "The tentative location for the two pull offs would be near Florence Drive and near the radio station tower (FM 104)."

Although he is not completely sure if trucks will be required to stop at both pull offs, Ofsanik said that trucks are generally required to stop at ones located at the top of a large grade of road.

He added that the local PennDOT office has fielded many calls from concerned residents about stakes that might have been placed on their property during the surveying work.

"Those stakes are for surveying purposes only," said Ofsanik. "They are not marking out areas where pull offs or any other project construction will take place."

The survey crews may or may not be back over the next several months throughout the preliminary design process.

In July of 2001 a hearing was conducted by the state Transportation Commission to take testimony for projects to be included in the PennDOT's 12-year plan.

In December of 2001, concerned residents attended a public open house to learn more about a transportation study on the problem.

Bill Oshnack, project manager for PennDOT at that meeting, released results of surveys that had been taken.

PennDOT received 40 responses to its survey, which asked residents if they supported various improvement measures. Of the 40 responses, an overwhelming number (30) support the building of a mandatory truck pull-off area, while only 23 support building a truck escape ramp.

Residents were also given the opportunity to suggest other safety improvements, which included improving law enforcement by state police, building a bypass, adding a truck lane, directing trucks onto McCoy Hollow Road, improving signage, adding guide rails and reducing sharp curves.

In addition to releasing the survey results, Oshnack also presented the short- and long-term improvement alternatives developed for the road.

Short-term options identified by PennDOT that would require only minor or no environmental documents and could be done in a 6- to 18-month time frame included the addition and modification of signs, adding milled rumble strips at the shoulder or center line, and enforcing the speed limit and no passing laws on Route 711.

Extended short-term improvements, which would require some environmental clearances and have higher engineering and construction costs, includes constructing a mandatory pull-off area and/or an escape ramp and improving horizontal curves on Route 711. Oshnack said that these improvements, which would require funding program approvals, could be completed within one to three years.

Now, two years and three months after that meeting, PennDOT has completed a number of the short-term options, but is just now beginning the process for the extended short-term improvements that include the two possible truck pull offs and a truck runaway ramp.

They will host another plans display meeting in July or August of this year once a preliminary design is completed.

"By the end of the year they hope to have a field design and then put the project out for bid," said Ofsanik. "We're talking 2005 before any type of construction would even start."

Although Oshnack said in December 2001 that long-term improvements, which would require an environmental assessment or impact study, could include adding a truck lane, Ofsanik said Monday that adding a third lane along the roadway is not part of the preliminary plans at this point.

According to a PennDOT count that was taken in August of 2000, 676 trucks travel the road daily, which has a 1,300 foot difference in elevation from the radio station to the intersection of Route 711 and Crawford Avenue in Connellsville.

Six major businesses in the lumber and stone industry are located at the top and in surrounding mountain areas of Route 711. And residents who reside along Route 711 point the finger at them for the heavy flow of truck traffic.

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