UPDATE: Route 61 road closure to extend past afternoon rush hour, PennDOT estimates

SAINT CLAIR — Route 61 on the Frackville Grade was shut down for more than 10 hours Tuesday after a construction crew struck a natural gas main north of here.

John Mason, principal communications leader with UGI, said late Tuesday afternoon that repairs would "go into the evening hours," meaning the major north-south traffic thoroughfare through the county would be closed even longer.

"There's no stopping on the work to fix this," Mason said.

The break was on the west side of the highway near Dark Water Road.

Both northbound and southbound lanes were closed between Terry Rich Boulevard at the Coal Creek Commerce Center in Saint Clair and Mall Road near Interstate 81 after workers on the Frackville Grade road construction project hit the gas line about 7:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Mason said in part that the time to make repairs was being extended in an effort to minimize disruption to any customers other than Pottsville Materials, which had its gas service shut off early in the incident.

The crushed stone supplier is along Dark Water Road about a mile west of Route 61.

UGI had a command center set up near the Schuylkill Municipal Authority's red brick building on the opposite side of the highway.

Traffic was detoured using routes 209 and 901 and I-81, according to PennDOT.

A supervisor with the Schuylkill County Communications Center had said early Tuesday the closure would be "an extended operation."

The $115 million grade project the largest road construction PennDOT has ever undertaken in Schuylkill County, began in earnest this spring with excavation and other work along the 4.2-mile stretch from Terry Rich Boulevard in Saint Clair to the interchange.

Business slowed

Bern Pasker, of Frackville, was headed home when he discovered the closure. He decided to stop at Dunkin' at the commerce center for a glazed doughnut and a coffee.

"I figure let the boys do what they've got to do," he said.

Lori Smith, store director, said the traffic closure was affecting business.

"It's absolutely slower than normal," she said.

Not sure of a number, she estimated business was down around 50%.

Smith said that she noticed a drop between 8:30 and 9 a.m., much earlier than the typical 10 a.m. falloff from the morning rush.

Updates on road conditions can be found at www.511pa.com.