State, borough working on plan to widen roadway
Topographic surveys began last week on a long-awaited project that will eliminate one of White Oak's most bothersome bottlenecks and harrowing hazards.
The target is Lincoln Way, the borough's major commercial thoroughfare.
At 10 a.m. Jan. 11, PennDOT representatives and engineers will walk Lincoln Way with members of the White Oak Local Development Corp. and borough engineer Erik Spiegel in preparation for widening the street. Additionally, the county Department of Economic Development will fund a commercial revitalization project including sidewalks, crosswalks, decorative lighting, benches and a streetscape in two or three blocks of the Lincoln Way business district.
"PennDOT wanted to come in 20 years ago and do some improvements, but that never happened," said Wayne Washowich Jr., corporation president and vice president of council.
"They saw the increase in traffic we would experience because of the growth of North Huntingdon, but there wasn't community support back then. Most of Lincoln Way was residential, whereas today most of it is commercial."
Washowich said widening is needed because about 22,000 vehicles a day use the two-lane highway — a traffic volume equivalent to most four-lane highways.
"And we have a real safety problem not only with cars trying to enter and exit our businesses but our pedestrians," Washowich said. We have two schools on either side of Lincoln Way, and we have a lot of people who walk across Lincoln Way to do their shopping."
The corporation and the borough are proposing widening from State Street to the Oak Park Mall area, and Washowich said PennDOT "may be looking at the entire stretch from Route 148 in McKeesport to the Westmoreland County line in North Huntingdon."
The proposal calls for a center lane from which motorists could turn either way, which he said will help them pull into businesses and make left-hand turns out of them. Some areas will have center median plantings and updated traffic signals, and the project might include centralized parking facilities in the business district.
White Oak learned last year it would get a $500,000 grant from PennDOT for initial phase engineering, design and environmental work. Washowich estimated that the entire project will cost between $3 million and $5 million and the county's work another $3 million to $4 million. He said the borough hopes everything will be completed within three years.
"We're very, very excited that this is going through," Mayor Milton Lebowitz said. "We were concerned that with what happened on Sept. 11, there would be a freeze on the money, and we're very thrilled that we are going to get this grant for this project.
"It's going to help the businesses. It's pretty hard to turn into them from Lincoln Way because it's only two lanes. It's a plus for White Oak, no doubt about it."
Bill Plum, owner of Lebowitz Cleaners and a corporation member, is one those businessmen. He bought the shop from the mayor's son about five years ago and never changed the name.
"For me, as a businessman, who has a business on Lincoln Way, people will be able to go into a turning lane and wait safely without people blowing their horns and pushing them to make a turn prematurely," he said.
"We're going to able to manage the flow of traffic better, eliminating quite a bit of driving on the berm to pass people making left turns. It's going to take the danger element out of the Lincoln Way corridor and allow people to get into and out of our businesses."
Washowich said he hopes the widening "will make a safer, more accessible roadway and alleviate traffic problems we have on our arterial side streets people use to avoid Lincoln Way. It's going to make it safer for our residents who cross Lincoln Way and will improve property values and the quality of life in White Oak."