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Western Pennsylvania Rolling Hills May Have Saved Four-Lane Route 8
That was the overriding message that came out of an open house and presentation by PennDOT and Michael Baker International (MBI) Tuesday evening at Franklin Junior/Senior High School.
While Max Heckman of MBI said that citizen input also factored into the decision and both Heckman and Jim Foringer and Tom McClellan of PennDOT all said that the public input was important, the overriding decision was that it wasn’t any less expensive to turn the roadway into two lanes than it was keeping it four lanes.
According to Heckman, the cost of reconstructing the four-lane, limited access part of the highway – which runs for roughly 10 miles from just north of Barkeyville to just south of Franklin – is estimated to be between $33 and $38 million.
The cost of turning the highway into a two-lane road would also cost between $33 and $38 million.
The biggest reason for this, according to Heckman, is because in doing the study MBI discovered that truck-climbing lanes would be needed in order to maintain an acceptable level of service (the speed that traffic flows) on the roadway if it were reduced to two lanes.
“The two-lane option doesn’t save any money,” Heckman told the sparsely attended event that included some political leaders including Venango County Commissioner Albert “Chip” Abramovic, Oil City mayor Bill Moon, State Representative R. Lee James and State Senator Scott Hutchinson among others – there was a meeting prior to the public open house with elected leaders that was basically the same presentation according to Abramovic that was attended by additional local political leaders.
Heckman said the original thought behind turning the roadway into two lanes would that it would cost less and there would be lower maintenance costs. But once the truck-climbing lanes needed to be added that savings went away.
In addition, it was revealed that turning the road into two lanes would reduce the level of service from an “A” service level to a “C” service level and would have also most likely required a reduction in speed limit to 55 miles per hour.
While a “C” service level is still acceptable in rural areas it is obviously not as good as an “A” service level, Heckman said.
Heckman also explained that some of the thought process that went into studying the two-lane concept was the amount of traffic that Route 8 says on a daily basis.
According to Heckman, the study revealed that the Average Daily Traffic (ADT) on the stretch of Route 8 being studies was 7,600 vehicles per day and was estimated to increase to 9,700 vehicles per day by 2040. Fourteen percent of the traffic is trucks.
When compared to other local roadways that are two lanes, the traffic was either the same or slightly less, Heckman said.
State Route 257 in Cranberry Township saw 10,000 vehicles per day in 2017 which is estimated to go up to 10,700 vehicles per day in 2040 with six percent of the traffic being truck traffic, while U.S. 322 in Venango County saw 7,400 vehicles per day in 2017 which is estimated to increase to 7,900 vehicles per day in 2040 with 10 percent of the traffic being truck traffic.
“As you can see, that falls within the level of service threshold for a two-lane road,” Heckman said.
The graph Heckman was referring to showed that for an “A” Level of Service to happen on a two-lane road traffic should be 2,500 vehicles per day with a “C” Level of Service being 10,100 vehicles per day. A four-lane road can handle “A” Level of Service at up to 29,000 vehicles per day and “C” Level of Service at 52,000 vehicles per day.
While money was perhaps the deciding factor in keeping Route 8 four lanes, Heckman also pointed to the feedback from citizens, community leaders and businesses as helping to influence the recommendation.
“We heard from the public that industries could be expanding in the region,” Heckman said. “The Marcellus Shale industry is starting to come in and the plastic manufacturing industry is important. With the building of the cracker plant in Beaver County they believe it will create growth in the plastic fields and keeping four lanes is crucial to attracting business.”
The full slideshow presentation should be available on PennDOT’s website for at least the next couple of weeks.
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