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Working Together: PennDOT and Youngwood Borough Address Safety on U.S. Route 119

June 24, 2020 09:30 AM
By: Rich Kirkpatrick, PennDOT Bureau of Innovations

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​The borough of Youngwood, Westmoreland County, is neighbor to a confluence of high-speed roadways – Interstate 70; the main Pennsylvania Turnpike; the Amos Hutchinson extension of the Turnpike, Pennsylvania Route 66, which is part of the Greensburg bypass; and the U.S. Route 30, the Ed Hutchinson Bypass. Even the main route through town, U.S. Route 119, is four lanes, and the downside is the high-speed traffic continues unabated within the town.

As part of the PennDOT Connects program, PennDOT's District 12 and the borough are teaming up to take steps to calm the traffic on Route 119 using an approach known as a Road Diet. The State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) also has championed Road Diets across Pennsylvania; The utilization of Road Diets was a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Every Day Counts (EDC) Round 3 initiative that Pennsylvania adopted. Others have been tried in Carlisle in Cumberland County, Sharon in Mercer County, Boalsburg in Centre County and Beaver Falls in Beaver County.

"We had a lot of public involvement," said Liberty Hill, District 12's plans engineer. "This is in line with the PennDOT Connects initiative. This has been a big PennDOT Connects project. We have had lots of community outreach and stakeholder meetings."

This past summer, the "PennDOT Connects – Connecting Communities" initiative won in the Quality of Life/Community Development Small Project category in the regional America's Transportation Awards competition.

PennDOT Connects began as a policy issued by former Secretary Leslie S. Richards to strengthen the commitment of PennDOT to collaborate with Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs)/Rural Planning Organizations (RPOs) and local governments during the planning process. PennDOT Connects identifies community needs and contextual issues early in project planning through a collaborative process.

Road Diets are one example of the innovations growing out of the STIC. The aim is to deliver the very best transportation services to communities across Pennsylvania. STIC is a collaboration between the FHWA and PennDOT, and features extensive outreach and collaboration with the highway construction industry, local governments and other entities.

The renovation on the four-lane U.S. Route 119 through the borough includes taking lanes from 12 feet wide to 11 feet wide with 8-foot parking lanes and installing chicanes, a type of S-curve configuration.

"It's a straight, four-lane highway. People build up speed in the straight away. Added chicanes to put curves in and it will slow people down," Hill said.

"The chicanes are innovative," Hill added. "There are not many places that have these. We also are building bulb outs for parking areas to give shelter to pedestrians who want to cross the road.  It gives them a place to stand while waiting to cross the road.

"It was originally scheduled as just a road improvement project. The pavement needed to be reconstructed through the town. We thought that while we were there, we would do the right thing for safety.

"We are actually lowering the speed limit from 35 mph to 25 mph," Hill said. "We are also installing flashing warning devices, including a speed minder that will post driver's speed compared to the posted speed limit."

Also, the project calls for painting optical speed bars that give drivers a better feel for how fast they are going. They are paint bars along the edge line and the spacing reduces as a driver proceeds through them.

"We are throwing a lot of innovative things into this project," Hill said.

The project also will extend sidewalks to the bike trail, so people can come into town for ice cream and other treats and to reach shopping areas.

The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission also invested a $1 million Smart Grant into the project.

"There has been mixed reaction, but it is mostly positive," Hill said. "Everybody knows the traffic needs to be slowed down in town because of pedestrians and the park. It is a walkable community."

Borough Manager Diane Schaefer agrees.

"This will improve the residential homes living on those main streets," she said. "Ultimately anybody with a business on Route 119, it will help them with people not flying through."

"Some people say it will not slow traffic down and some are hopeful it will work, and we will continue to move forward," she added. "I do welcome the development. Speaking on behalf of the borough, people do think this will be a welcome approach.

Schaefer also had high praise for the innovations championed by PennDOT.

"Youngwood Borough has worked so well through this program," she said. "I can't speak highly enough of the team at PennDOT, the engineering team. The communications have been wonderful. I am a board member for the State Association of Boroughs and I tell people that. This is a good thing."

Added Hill: "Some people are skeptical whether it will work, but most everybody we talked to is thrilled we are trying this and we have the backing of the community."

Full reconstruction work is currently underway and expected to be completed in late summer 2023.

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