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PennDOT to reduce speed limit on Route 366

Chuck Biedka
| Saturday, Feb. 13, 2010

After first saying no, PennDOT is agreeing to reduce the speed limit on part of Route 366 where two teens died last year.

PennDOT will reduce the speed from 55 mph to 50 mph on a 1.1-mile section from where Tarentum Bridge Road crosses Leechburg Road to the entrance to New Kensington's Memorial Park.

The change will happen as soon as crews can install signs, PennDOT spokesman Jay Ofsanik said Friday.

"We will do this as soon as weather conditions permit," he said. "We hope people slow down and drive carefully."

New Kensington officials had asked that the speed be pared to 45 mph.

Last year, teenagers Colin Grau and Kylee Jo Acre died in separate wrecks in the corridor nine months apart.

Grau, a 17-year-old Valley High School senior from New Kensington, died Jan. 21 in an SUV that police say swerved into the path of a pickup near the park entrance.

Acre, a 16-year-old of Braeview Street, Lower Burrell, died in a Sept. 6 collision on Route 366 near Marlborough Drive.

Both victims were passengers.

Last month, New Kensington officials asked PennDOT to set a 45-mph speed limit on the road. PennDOT's first response wasn't encouraging.

In a Feb. 3 letter only made public Tuesday, PennDOT District 12 officials wrote that two studies showed 55 mph is "the appropriate speed restriction for this section of roadway."

At the same time, PennDOT safety engineers recommended increased speed enforcement by police.

PennDOT officials said a five-year study showed the accident rate "was not found to be above the expected rate for this type of roadway considering the volume of traffic it accommodates."

In addition, engineers did a radar-gun survey in January that showed "85 percent of the motorists were driving at 55 mph along Route 366," said Wendy Brunory, the District 12 assistant traffic director for studies and safety.

"We don't think there is anything that justifies a speed limit change," she said.

Unhappy with the ruling, Mayor Tom Guzzo and other city officials appealed and asked lawmakers to get involved.

"One crash is too many, especially with fatalities involved. We will continue to pursue this," Guzzo said. On Tuesday, police Chief Ron Zellers said the city "wouldn't give up."

Told about the 5 mph change on Friday, Guzzo said it was a "step in the right direction."

Zellers said police will continue to send marked patrol cars on the stretch to discourage speeders.

"We will patrol as much as possible," he said.

State Sen. Sean Logan, D-Monroeville, and Rep. John Pallone, D-Arnold, said they looked into the matter after being informed by a reporter because PennDOT had not sent them letters on the issue.

Pallone said he talked to the city and PennDOT engineers to "appeal to PennDOT's sense of logic to reduce the speed limit in that corridor."

Logan said PennDOT at first told him there is a liability concern if the two studies are ignored.

However, after numerous phone calls, a PennDOT safety staffer told Logan on Thursday that it was possible for the department regulations to compromise.

"Their regulations allow them to drop the speed limit by 5 mph," Logan said.

"This should help the Valley and encourage safety," Pallone said.

Chuck Biedka can be reached at cbiedka@tribweb.com.

Additional Information:

Improvements planned

PennDOT already has agreed to make improvements this spring including:

• Paving road shoulders to eliminate dropoffs that could help drivers to maintain control if they drift off the roadway.

• Add rumble strips to alert drivers when they are on the shoulder.

• Add reflectors on guide rails in a 1.1-mile section.

• PennDOT has painted 'skip lines' to warn drivers merging from Route 356 just past Marlborough Drive.'

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