Jun. 12—The significantly deteriorated conditions of two Meadville area roadways that carry thousands of vehicles each day will be addressed with separate multimillion dollar projects in the next few years, and officials are looking for public input to shape the final form of each thoroughfare.
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PennDOT's presentations on proposed improvement to French Creek Parkway, along with a form for public comment that will remain open until Wednesday, are available online at www.penndot.gov/RegionalOffices/district-1/PublicMeetings/CrawfordCounty.
Depending on what they hear, project leaders at Pennsylvania Department of Transportation may also be looking for local organizations willing to maintain trails and pollinator habitats that spring up where multiple lanes of traffic are currently located.
The roadways to be replaced at a total cost likely to exceed $20 million are a 2.5-mile section of French Creek Parkway extending north from the Reynolds Avenue intersection and the Spring Street Bridge, which traverses the parkway just north of that crossroads.
"Any of you that have driven this section of road are probably familiar with the fact that we are reaching the end of the useful life for this roadway," PennDOT Project Manager Chris Boyer-Krantz said of the French Creek Parkway project during a virtual public meeting held last week to discuss design possibilities. "The pavement has deteriorated."
The problem areas range "from fair to serious," Boyer-Krantz added.
Similar conditions can be found on Spring Street Bridge, where the obsolete construction design employed when the bridge was erected in 1951 has combined with years of water and road salt to make continued upkeep both difficult and expensive.
"Steel and concrete bridges typically can last a long time," said Project Manager Gary Frenette of Dewberry, the Mechanicsburg-based contractor handling the bridge replacement. "But once they start to deteriorate, that deterioration is increasingly progressive and really that leads to costly maintenance needs."
PennDOT officials outlined multiple options for both projects. For French Creek Parkway, the four possibilities range from reconstructing the roadway with the existing lane configuration, which features two lanes in each direction separated by a wide median, to a significant revision in which two-way traffic would be shifted to where the westbound lanes are now and the eastbound lanes would be converted to a multipurpose trail.
Each of the alternatives to the current configuration also include upgrades to road layout at the Stan Road, Baldwin Street Park Road, and Baldwin Street Extension intersections to improve safety while maintaining the 55 mph speed limit now in place. None of the alternatives incorporated roundabouts that had been included in a 2018 consideration of possible designs.
Reconstructing the parkway as it is would maintain the high-maintenance expense and would cost $9.1 million while doing nothing to improve safety. Keeping the four-lane layout and improving safety would not only require continued high-maintenance expenses, but would be the most expensive option at an estimated $14.1 million. Reducing traffic to two lanes and adding a trail would likely cost $11 million — and would actually be slightly less expensive than reducing traffic to two lanes without a trail, since the expense of removing two lanes of traffic would be avoided.
The possibility of a trail raises another concern, according to Boyer-Krantz. PennDOT does not maintain trails, even when it builds them — and it won't build one without a maintenance commitment from a Meadville-area organization or government entity. Similarly, the construction options offer, to various degrees, the possibility of introducing roadside pollinator habitats, but those, too, require community partners.
An option will be selected this summer and project design will take place over the next year with construction expected to begin in fall 2022.
Two options are under consideration for Spring Street Bridge. One would keep traffic patterns the same while replacing the deck and beams of the bridge. The other would drastically alter current traffic patterns by eliminating the existing bridge entirely and replacing it with a much shorter and realigned span. Instead of carrying Spring Street over French Creek and French Creek Parkway, it would carry the street over the creek to connect to where Bessemer Street currently intersects French Creek Parkway, directly across from Reynolds Avenue, leaving two discontinuous sections of Spring Street.
While it involves the complete elimination of the current bridge, the more radical realignment is significantly more affordable: PennDOT estimated a realigned new bridge would cost $10 million while reconstructing the current bridge in place would cost $15 million.
A new realigned bridge would also avoid the 12- to 14-month detour that would be needed to repair the existing bridge. However, the plan comes with concerns since the construction would occur in the floodplain. Further study would be needed to demonstrate that it would not increase the flood risk.
PennDOT plans to choose which approach will be adopted this summer. Design of the project will continue through fall 2023 and construction is expected to begin in 2024.
PennDOT's presentations, along with a form for public comment, remain available online until June 16 at www.penndot.gov/RegionalOffices/district-1/PublicMeetings/CrawfordCounty.
The impact of public input on projects like these can vary, according to PennDOT spokesman Saxon Daugherty.
For instance, even if numerous people express support for the same idea, if that proposal adds significantly to the scope of proposed work, "resources may not be available to make it possible," Daugherty wrote in an email.
On the other hand, a single comment can sometimes change the shape of things to come from PennDOT.
"If a resident brings up a safety concern during the public comment period and after further investigation it is deemed valid and their suggested resolution is viable," Daugherty said, "the department would pursue it."
As the virtual public meeting on the two projects concluded, Tom McClelland, PennDOT's assistant district executive for design in the northwest region, encouraged people who live near and travel on the roads in question to offer their views. None of the engineers working on the project live in Meadville, he said.
"There's a lot of different things that still need study. We've got the slate clean. We want to hear opinions," McClelland said. "We want to hear from the people that live there and have working knowledge."
Mike Crowley can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.