Julian residents worried about PennDOT plan for bridge, town

crosenbl@centredaily.comSeptember 19, 2013 

— As Carol and Terry Alexander sat at a picnic table outside their Julian home, several trucks roared by on old U.S. Route 220 nearby.

Speeding like that worries the couple.

They’re concerned that a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation proposal to create a new entrance into town will put local children at risk from traffic on old Route 220.

The proposed entrance would lie about 100 yards from the town’s sole old Route 220 intersection — which is now directly across the highway from Beaver Road, also known as Julian Pike — and cut through about a half-acre of the Alexanders’ property.

It then would cross an active railroad bed on a gradual grade and link to a realigned Furnace Street in town.

To turn left into Julian, school buses coming from Beaver in the southbound lane would have to wait while stopped for opposing traffic— a scenario the Alexanders and other Julian residents fear could endanger the buses from trucks racing over a rise not far behind.

“We aren’t upset so much that it’s going through our property,” Carol Alexander said. “It’s the safety of the kids. I don’t think it worth the safety of one child.”

Terry Alexander said a waiting bus would have nowhere to pull off to avoid a crash because that part of the highway only has a narrow shoulder leading into a deep ditch. He said the threat came to mind as soon as he learned of PennDOT’s plan.

“There isn’t going to be any room for a truck to stop,” he said. “There isn’t anywhere to go.”

It’s just one of the issues Julian residents have with the proposed changes.

At the heart of the controversy is an aging bridge across Laurel Run. Running parallel to a railroad bridge, it connects the existing entrance with the town’s Railroad Avenue.

PennDOT says the bridge is structurally deficient and must be replaced. But that presents a knotty problem, said Karen Michael, assistant district executive for design for PennDOT’s District 2.

“When we looked at replacing the bridge at the existing location, there is no room to put a temporary structure over the waterway at that location without impacting either the residents there on the one side or the railroad bridge on the other,” Michael said.

At that point, Michael said, PennDOT looked at two options: a lengthy detour into town or an alternative road. But after considering the cost of simultaneously building a temporary entrance and repairing the bridge, PennDOT decided that closing the bridge made more financial sense.

“If we’re going to spend all the money to do (a road), why wouldn’t we do a permanent solution?” she said.

Keeping the bridge would at least double the $700,000 estimate for the entrance realignment, Michael said, adding that PennDOT has allocated $1 million overall for the project.

At their July meeting, Huston Township supervisors listened to PennDOT Project Manager Robert Jaconski outline the proposed entrance and Furnace Street realignment.

Under the plan, after the new road crosses the railroad tracks, it would descend into the town and remake the start of Furnace Street into a gently curving, elevated path, taking out portions of two properties.

Supervisors then invited staff from the Centre County Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Centre County Planning and Community Development Office to their August meeting.

At the end of the meeting, the supervisors unanimously agreed with the more than 20 residents present “that the proposed concept was not acceptable,” according to a letter to PennDOT from the Board of Supervisors.

“Julian is a small village that has essentially remained unchanged for decades,” the letter said.

“The proposed project would divide and essentially cut off a portion of the community from the rest of the village. Those living on the easternmost portion of Railroad (Avenue) would be forced to enter (old state Route 220) and drive into Julian via the new road.”

Furthermore, the letter said, the realignment would hamper firefighters, who now can get to Laurel Run via the Alexanders’ property to pump water and refill their tanks.

Closing the bridge and restricting access to the creek, the letter said, “would impact the Port Matilda Fire Company’s ability to refill and respond to the village in a timely manner.”

Opal and Roy Hanscom also worry about water — for a different reason — and have written PennDOT about their concerns.

They live along Railroad Avenue, one parcel from the present Furnace Street intersection. PennDOT’s plan, they said, will leave their property sitting below the walls of a V from two elevated ramps and vulnerable to flooding from stormwater and snow runoff.

“We’re going to be in a swamp hole,” Opal Hanscom said.

First and foremost, Roy Hanscom said, he and his wife want PennDOT to replace the bridge and improve the safety of the present old Route 220 intersection.

Failing that, he said, the next best thing would be to eliminate the Railroad Avenue ramp in front of their home and make the street dead end at the other ramp.

That way, he said, their property will have proper drainage on at least one side. He fully expects his storage building — the former town post office — to be flooded often if the realignment goes through.

“That building will be useless to me,” he said.

His neighbor, Herb Breon, stands to lose two wells and a slice of his property to a realigned Furnace Street, and also faces the prospect of having an elevated road and guardrails bordering his property.

“Everybody is against it,” he said. “The whole town is against it.”

In their letter to PennDOT, township supervisors said they “understand and appreciate” the agency’s efforts to improve safety conditions at the town’s present old Route 220 intersection, “as it also represents one of our most significant and long-standing concerns” because of “limited sight distances and traffic speeds.”

But, supervisors said, they share local concern that residents will have to make more turns onto old Route 220 under PennDOT’s proposal, which will “significantly increase the likelihood of a crash.”

Moreover, supervisors said, residents disagree with PennDOT’s belief that Furnace Street’s present curves are “substandard,” and worry that “smoothing these curves will result in higher speeds through the village.”

Michael said the bridge in question cannot remain in its present shape. But, she said, PennDOT respects the community’s objections and will work with residents and supervisors to arrive at a mutually acceptable plan.

“All the proposal did was start the dialogue about what we can do at this location and how we can be as cost-effective with the funds we have,” she said.

Construction funds will not be available until at least 2015, though PennDOT would like to have a final plan in place by spring to begin the design process, Michael said.

In the meantime, she said, the agency hopes to schedule another meeting with township officials within two weeks, and continue to hear from local residents.

“That’s why we want to start the dialogue,” Michael said. “People who live there know what the issues are.”

Chris Rosenblum can be reached at 231-4620. Follow him on Twitter@CRosenblumNews.

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