June 21, 2012
With the help of the Westmoreland Economic Development Initiative for Growth (WEDIG) and the Smart Growth Partnership of Westmoreland County (SGP), Allegheny Township submitted testimony Monday seeking inclusion of a State Route 356 South Transportation and Safety Improvement Project to the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC) 2013-2016 Transportation Improvement Project list.
The project proposes the addition of a climbing lane on State Route 356 South, from the southern end of the Freeport Bridge near the River Forest residential development heading in the direction of Allegheny Township. The project is the same that was proposed at the May Allegheny Township supervisors meeting.
"It would add an additional lane from the exit of the Freeport Bridge heading south toward the township for approximately one-tenth of a mile. At the point of merger, just at the end of the bridge is a very steep hill that causes large trucks to slow down to a point where traffic behind the trucks backs up to the bridge ramp itself and blocks the exits to River Landing and Club House Drive, two roads going into a major subdivision in the township," said Ren Steele, Allegheny Township Supervisor, in his official testimony to the SPC.
"In addition, State Route 356 South continues to have many hills for about 4 miles until it reaches State Route 56 in Allegheny Township," his testimony continues. "This means that traffic stacked up at the termination of the bridge initiates major congestion for the next 4 miles of the road."
The testimony cited not only reduced traffic congestion and improved safety but the potential for improved regional connectivity and new business development opportunities. Steele asserted that land use consideration will need to be given, as well as consideration for infrastructure design that preserves community character, existing open space and environmental assets. The area is within the Pennsylvania Mainline Canal Greenway, and Route 356 intersects the Greenway near a proposed Pittsburgh to Harrisburg bike/pedestrian trail. Two Allegheny Township manufacturing areas lie within one-tenth of a mile of the bridge (Nova Industrial Park and disc spring manufacturers Key Bellevilles), as does the location of the Freeport Theatre Festival which Steele and his wife operate.
WEDIG’s infrastructure committee, which identified the project as the highest priority for the area served, and staff of the Smart Growth Partnership assisted township supervisors in identifying and prioritizing key transportation projects, creating rationale for funding of this project and giving voice to the concerns of the community. Staff of WEDIG and the Smart Growth Partnership coordinated a number of meetings and brainstorming sessions with community leaders and SPC.
From these sessions, the climbing lane project emerged as a key priority due to a number of factors, including:
improved traffic flow and travel times
multi-modal opportunities and connectivity
opportunity for environmentally-friendly and community-appropriate business development
preservation of farmland, forests, residential areas and recreational amenities
opportunity to capitalize on community character and identity
Local leadership offers support
In a letter of support to the testimony, WEDIG Chairman Dr. Kevin Snider said "WEDIG’s board of directors is pleased to hear of the progress of this proposal and the cooperation fostered between Allegheny Township and our Infrastructure Committee, which has collaborated with the township as well as the Smart Growth Partnership of Westmoreland County to investigate and thoroughly review the options - and, ultimately, the best solutions - for this transportation matter in our region. WEDIG is looking forward to assisting in the future with all parties."
Smart Growth Partnership of Westmoreland County Interim Executive Director/ Penn State Extension Economic and Community Development Educator John Turack described the project as a great example of "community development - defined as the coming together of community leaders/stakeholders to develop solutions to a community challenge."
Allan Kukovich, Smart Growth Partnership president also voiced his support for the project. "This State Route 356 South Transportation and Safety Improvement Project is not only a crucial project for northern Westmoreland County, but it also embodies many of the principles of the Smart Growth Partnership," he said. "Allegheny Township’s request is an excellent example of community and stakeholder collaboration as well as a decision that fairly and cost effectively strengthens development towards existing communities."
"Whether or not the passing lane is actually completed by 2016 is not really the main point," Turack said. "Discussion and agreement by community leaders that this is a priority use of funds in the current lean funding environment is a success in itself."
Fifty-fourth District State Representative Eli Evankovich provided additional testimony in support of the project.
"Better roads are critical to the economic revitalization of our region. I look forward to supporting this project and working with all who are involved in making this project a success," Evankovich said. WEDIG assisted in securing support for the project and encourages testimony from surrounding communities and property owners, according to WEDIG Executive Director Julie Martin. "A number of our member municipalities have extended their written support, including the cities of Lower Burrell, New Kensington and Upper Burrell Township," she said. "Officials of municipalities in the WEDIG recognize the value of such a project for our region and the entire A-K Valley."
Members of WEDIG’s Infrastructure committee include Travis Bieda, District Manager to State Representative Eli Evankovich; John Framel, WEDIG Infrastructure Committee Chairman; Rick Harnish, Penn State New Kensington Campus Representative; Julie E. Martin, WEDIG Executive Director; Ren Steele, Allegheny Township Supervisor; John Turack, Westmoreland County Penn State Extension Economic and Community Development Educator and Interim Executive Director of the Smart Growth Partnership of Westmoreland County.