The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation continues planning the Southern Section of the thruway, but a traffic signal dispute is causing complications.
In PennDOT’s current design for the Central Susquehanna Valley Transportation Project, northbound traffic headed for Route 522 will be directed from Routes 11-15 to an existing jug handle around Sheetz, a design some say is hazardous for big rigs.
The state denied a proposal to install a traffic light at the intersections of Routes 11/15 and 522 that would have allowed for more direct access.
If the light was installed, Monroe Township would be financially responsible for maintenance. Snyder County Commissioners offered $2,000 a year toward maintenance, but supervisors declined because of long-term concerns, namely replacement which could cost the township up to $350,000.
“I know no one wants to hold up the project and I understand why Monroe Township doesn’t want to pay $350,000 to maintain the light, but my position is that it is completely insane to run traffic behind Sheetz,” said Snyder County Commissioner Joe Kantz.
Efforts to get PennDOT officials to change the design and install a light have so far been futile, but Kantz said supporters are continuing to push them back to the negotiating table and have reached out to legislators for help.
Kantz said it’s not unprecedented for the state to take over financial responsibility of light maintenance. He points to the lights on a new bridge that Union Township refused to pay for which are now being maintained by the state.
This section of the project will connect U.S. Routes 11/15 just north of Selinsgrove to U.S. 15 — and the project’s Northern Section — just south of Winfield, said Matthew Beck, PennDOT District 3 design unit assistant plans engineer.
“We are currently working on final engineering designs for the many different components of the southern section of the project,” Beck said. That includes bridges, stream culverts, drainage systems, traffic signals, highway lighting, and erosion control and stormwater management features.
Beck said PennDOT received environmental clearance in January 2019 for modifying roughly two miles of the project alignment to avoid the fly ash waste basins near Shamokin Dam.
Beck said they have several major activities that must be completed prior to starting construction, which is projected for 2022 with completion by 2027:
Final plans and bidding
Some engineering work requires information from the field.
“We periodically have crews performing investigations such as soil borings for bridge foundation designs and soil infiltration testing for stormwater management designs,” Beck said.
PennDOT is also currently working on plans for maintaining traffic on existing roadways during construction and for measures to mitigate the project’s impacts. For example, Beck said, “we are currently performing studies to finalize proposed noise barrier locations.”
“Most of the project’s footprint will impact portions of individual parcels,” Beck said.
He said PennDOT is preparing right-of-way acquisition plans to define the exact pieces of property that will be affected by the highway.
“As those plans are finalized, we will work through the acquisition process with those affected property owners as well,” he said
PennDOT is coordinating regularly with utility companies regarding their facilities that will be impacted by the project, Beck said. “In particular, UGI and PPL are currently advancing their designs for relocating portions of their gas pipeline and their electric transmission lines, respectively, to accommodate the new highway.
“We are also working with utility companies on arrangements for relocating the various smaller facilities that must be moved prior to or in conjunction with the highway construction, including water lines, sewer lines, and communication lines,” Beck said.
PennDOT is in the early stages of coordinating with the state Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other environmental agencies regarding the permits required for the project, including waterway/wetland permits and a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.
“We periodically meet with those agencies to review specific components of the project,” he said, “such as our proposed measures for handling potential acid-bearing rock, so that we can address any concerns they may have as we advance our final design and prepare applications for those permits. Our meeting with the environmental agencies on the project’s anticipated impacts to wetlands and waterways will be held later this month.”
PennDOT anticipates submitting permit applications to the environmental agencies in late 2020.