Ferguson Township, PennDOT seek public input on Pine Grove Mountain runaway truck ramp project

jvanderk@centredaily.comOctober 8, 2013 

— As Supervisor Bill Keough put it, the 2006 fatal crash in Pine Grove Mills is still on many people’s minds as village residents consider a proposed safety project that would add another runaway truck ramp to the mountain.

The township and state Department of Transportation held an open house on the issue Monday evening, offering information on the project and seeking public feedback.

On June 14, 2006, a tractor-trailer barreled down the mountain, having lost its brakes, and crashed through Kline’s Garage, killing David Carson.

After that, PennDOT and the township started planning to make the area safer, including ideas for runaway truck ramps, improvements to the intersection of state Routes 26 and 45 in the village and an electronic warning system that would trigger alerts at the base of the mountain should a truck be out of control on its way down.

Up for discussion Monday was a $2.4 million project to install a runaway truck ramp closer to the bottom of the mountain. One ramp already exists near the top, constructed in 2010. It has not been used.

The new ramp is receiving mixed reviews because it would cross East Chestnut Street, affecting a handful of properties and requiring a realignment of the street and relocation of about 500 feet of Slab Cabin Run.

Preliminary engineering has received $120,000 in state funding, but no other funding is currently available. A new ramp could be completed in 2017 at the earliest.

Lisa Smith and her mother, Rita Smith, live just north of where the new intersection with Chestnut would sit. They’ve lived there since 1997.

Lisa Smith doesn’t like the project and worries her trees will be cut down. She said it’s beautiful this time of year.

While Smith said she’s concerned about safety, “We already have one truck ramp. Why do we need two?”

Rita Smith added it might be worth it to re-route the road through farm fields and said the trees buffer the noise from Route 26.

“I’m going to look up and see this ugly ramp,” Lisa Smith added.

That kind of feedback will be key to whether the project goes ahead. The existing ramp was placed on state land, making planning and construction relatively easy. The second ramp’s crossing of Chestnut would potentially involve eminent domain of at least one home.

“If the public is opposed, then we’re probably not going to do it,” said project manager Kelly Woodling, of PennDOT District 2.

When the township discussed the ramps in 2008, Public Works Director Dave Modricker and Police Chief Diane Conrad said a lower ramp would offer more safety benefits.

Modricker said Monday that he doesn’t think his personal opinion has changed since then.

“The lower ramp certainly meets the (safety project) guidelines and it’s certainly a safety improvement,” he said. “The question is, what do the public and Board of Supervisors think.”

At least two supervisors attended the open house ahead of their 7 p.m. board meeting. PennDOT officials were scheduled to make a presentation and no board action was expected.

“I want to see that intersection done,” said Chairman George Pytel, referencing the realignment that would connect Route 26 to South Nixon Road, giving out-of-control vehicles a place to continue through the intersection with Route 45. “The chances are a lot better that you’re not going to hit something if you go straight through.”

Keough agreed that he thinks the second ramp is “not going to benefit all that much” the problem with the intersection in the village.

Jessica VanderKolk can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @jVanReporter.

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