The intersection of Pennsylvania Ave. and Market St. was back in the limelight.
PennDOT held a public forum at the Slater Room of the Warren Public Library on Wednesday night to seek feedback on the intersection, which is slated for construction in 2020.
PennDOT and staff with consulting firm ms consultants, inc. outlined two options – replacing the traffic signal and increasing turning radii or the installation of a roundabout – and took questions from approximately 20 members of the community that were present.
“We’re here to get your feedback after we present what we’re looking at,” Jim Foringer, PennDOT District executive said. “We haven’t made a final decision. That’s why we’re here. The goal is to meet the needs of the community. We want your feedback. In this case, we want to answer any questions you have about either options.”
Brian McNulty, assistant district executive for design, outlined the process to get a project like this to this stage.
“We are here for your input,” he said. “As we compare these two alternatives, (there are) some areas where one is better than the other. (There are areas) where the other may be a better improvement.”
“There is a need to improve safety,” John O’Mara with ms consultants, inc., said.
O’Mara said that there were nine reportable crashes at the intersection over the last five years, including two involving pedestrians.
“One way that we engineers evaluate (is to) try to fix the geometries of the intersection,” he said.
The first option – a signal replacement – would keep “the alignments where they are at,” O’Mara explained.
“(An) additional left turn lane… is warranted. This option at a minimum would require reconstruction of all the radii to enlarge the radii to accommodate large vehicles. It’s not much different than what’s out there today.
“The only change in configuration is an exclusive left approach westbound on Pennsylvania Ave.,”he continued. That option “does come at a loss of two on-street parking spaces on the northern leg of Market St.”
O’Mara said construction of this option would be done “one corner at a time. The idea here as we work through (is) maintaining a majority of all the traffic patterns with a temporary signal while the corners are being reconstructed.”
The discussion then shifted to the possibility of a roundabout at that intersection.
O’Mara said a “reconstruction of the roadway” would be required. He pointed out that roundabouts are safer, motorists approach at slower speeds and pedestrians only have to cross one lane at a time.
McNulty said that there are between 3,000 and 4,000 roundabouts across the country and that data shows significant reductions in crashes.
O’Mara detailed the truck apron – a “slightly raised, elevated area” – designed to provide additional space for trucks to make the turns.
This option, he said, “does impact significantly more parking” – a total of 29 spaces including “a few in CVS… largely due to the footprint of the roundabout.”
O’Mara said phase construction is possible with a roundabout in order to keep some traffic movements open. He also outlined a detour that uses Dorcon, the Glade Bridge and the Ludlow Street exit.
He said the specifics on phasing are “just potential” at this planning phase.
Why review a roundabout?
“Safety is the number one reason why they are evaluated,” O’Mara said, dealing that the number of conflict points between cars are reduced from 32 to 8 and between cars and pedestrians are reduced from 24 to 8.
He did say that there could be a cost to the city if the city elected more aesthetic options for the light poles. The utility company is also responsible for cost related to moving those lines and that could bring a cost to the city if there are sewer lines that need to be moved.
The rest of the project would be paid for via state and federal funds. Cost projections provided at the meeting indicate a total cost of $2 million for the light replacement and $2.5 million for the roundabout.
“The way that the roundabout is efficient,” Foringer said, is that “traffic is moving continuously…. We understand it’s a learning curve for the motoring public.”
A host of issues were raised by the public – concerns about pedestrian safety, truck traffic and plowing.
Some cast skepticism about whether the data on roundabout safety would be accurate here, others questioned whether any improvement is needed with only nine accidents in five years, while others raised concerns about whether a roundabout would actually improve traffic flow.
On the plowing issue, McNulty said there are “hundreds and hundreds (of roundabouts) in snowy places like Warren, Pennsylvania. I understand the concern. Similar I’m sure to an existing intersection, there are multiple passes required.”
Adam Elms, PennDOT Warren County maintenance manager, said that PennDOT has contracted with the City for the plowing of Pennsylvania Ave. and Market St. and said that the “city equipment is a lot smaller. The city equipment is more than capable. It’s a huge intersection down there now.”
He said much of the plowing takes place in non-peak hours.
A third option was put forward by those in attendance – an option where the traffic light would be replaced but would stay red all ways to give an “exclusive pedestrian phase.” Officials indicated that that option would be reviewed.
The decision among the options rests with Warren City Council.
City Manager Nancy Freenock indicated that she is unsure when the decision will be brought before council as there are multiple members who have not been able to review the proposals.
She said council may to invite PennDOT to a work session in order for council to gather all the information needed to make the decision.
One member of council did speak during the session.
“I’m a walker,” Councilman Paul Giannini said. “A lot of what you’re discussing has to do with drivers. I walk this intersection quite frequently.”
Giannini called this intersection “probably the worst” for pedestrians in the downtown.
“(I’ve) seen so many near misses because… drivers in this town are crazy at this intersection.”
McNulty said that a session for public officials was held prior to the public session.
“There was not a consensus as there really isn’t one here,” he said of the sessions, noting that the city will have to enter into a maintenance agreement with the state for one of the options.
“There is a decision that the city would have to make,” he said.