PennDOT: More delays, stopped traffic as Potters Mills Gap project progresses

Potters Mills Gap new highway will have traffic by end of 2020

A view of existing Route 322 from two Potters Mills Gap project construction sites where the new four-lane highway Route 322 will be constructed - on the Potters Mills side and on the Sand Mountain Road side, on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018.
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A view of existing Route 322 from two Potters Mills Gap project construction sites where the new four-lane highway Route 322 will be constructed - on the Potters Mills side and on the Sand Mountain Road side, on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018.

Motorists traveling both east and westbound on General Potter Highway in Potters Mills Gap through the Seven Mountains should expect delays through November, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

As workers from Glenn O. Hawbaker of State College, which was awarded the $82.3 million bid for the final phase of the Potters Mills Gap project in March, begin constructing the new four-lane roadway that will replace existing Route 322 in the project area, they need to “scale” the area, said John Wert, project manager for Hawbaker.

That involves breaking up many of the large boulders that perch on the mountainside in the gap and stabilizing the mountainsides so rock doesn’t fall on the roadway.

The crews hope to begin that process next week after the Thanksgiving recess, weather permitting, said Wert. While workers are breaking up the large rocks, “we will stop traffic 15 minutes at a time, both directions, for the safety of the traveling public,” he said.

Most of those stops will occur between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. for the safety of both motorists and workers, who can’t scale the mountainsides at night due to an inability to adequately light the work area.

There will be no work on Thanksgiving, Friday, or Monday and Tuesday of next week.

Project delays ‘outside the department’s control’

There have been delays in finishing the final phase of the project, said Wert, “that are outside the department’s control right now.”

“We’ve had some delays with the utility companies on their relocations ... so we had to wait for some of that work to be completed,” said Greg Sidorick, project manager for PennDOT.

Despite those delays, “we expect to have traffic on the main line by the end of 2020 and at this point in time that is still our expectation,” said Marla Fannin, community relations coordinator for the project.

In the meantime, Wert said, PennDOT and Hawbaker have completed work that they did not plan on finishing while other parts of the project were delayed.

Work crews will continue excavating and moving rock throughout the winter, which Fannin said will help keep the project on schedule.

“The impacts that motorists are experiencing now are mainly because of work that must be done before we can get off of existing 322 to start constructing the new main line,” Fannin said.

In terms of safety, PennDOT and Hawbaker encourage motorists to pay attention and be patient with traffic delays.

“I think all the accidents that happened on the project have not necessarily been because of the project ... they’ve been exactly what they were: accidents,” Wert said. “And I think that’s why this project is so important. This is a very dangerous piece of road and the sooner we get done the better it will be for everybody ... so, I mean, educating people that this is a dangerous piece of road and they need to be careful on it is very important.”

Final phase: what to expect

The current traffic pattern, in which westbound traffic is directed to the crossover from Decker Valley Road to Sand Mountain Road, with one-lane traffic both eastbound and westbound a mile east of Potters Mills (intersection of Route 322 and Route 144), will remain the same through mid-summer 2019.

The five-year PennDOT Potters Mills Gap project began in 2015 with the construction of a new bridge at Sand Mountain Road for an interchange that incorporates a connection with Sandcrest Road. Phase two of the project finished up in January with tree clearing in the area where the new, two-lane section of the highway will be. The third and final phase is to completely reconstruct Route 322 from Sand Mountain Road to Potters Mills, with a new interchange between 322 and Route 144, west of the existing connection of Route 322 and 144.

Work crews have also been clearing and paving township roads for local traffic, including the relocation of Lloyd Avenue and the rehabilitation of service road 2015, which will provide local access between Sand Mountain Road and Potters Mills. Township roads No. 2 and No. 3 are ready to be put in service.

During construction of the new western interchange, work crews will construct a roundabout to give local roads access to new Route 322, including Wild Turkey Drive, Coulter Lane, Miller Road and other properties losing direct access to Route 322.

Other work PennDOT expects to complete in 2019 are the construction of retaining walls and bridge abutments for the new four-lane highway and excavation of the “Gap” cut and retaining walls.