BENTLEYVILLE – The cost of rebuilding an Interstate 70 interchange at Bentleyville has risen to more than $65 million as the state Department of Transportation inches toward a final design for what should create a safer highway in that area.
The new price is $15 million higher than PennDOT initially estimated when the project was introduced and met with local opposition nearly three years ago.
The problem PennDOT faces with modernizing the 52-mile stretch of I-70 between Washington and New Stanton is rebuilding a modern highway on a 60-year-old road that is “functionally obsolete,” said Joseph Szczur, the department’s district engineer.
Project manager Troy Pritts stated the Bentleyville project’s new price tag Tuesday prior to a public meeting PennDOT scheduled in Bentleyville to make public the interchange’s current design.
More than 100 people attended the meeting in the local fire department social hall where most of the concerns centered on a roundabout to be built where Wilson Road meets the I-70 east off and on ramps.
The roundabout, something that is uncommon to Pennsylvania, is among six being designed in the four-county area in efforts to make road safety improvements, said Stephen A. Moore, PennDOT’s consultant on the Bentleyville project.
The I-70 changes in the Bentleyville area call for the elimination of the eastbound on ramp and westbound off ramp at the nearby interchange at Route 917. PennDOT considered the elimination of that entire interchange until members of Bentleyville Fire Department complained that move would make it difficult for firefighters to quickly respond to I-70 crashes.
PennDOT on March 14 announced the Federal Highway Administration gave it permission to retain the eastbound off and westbound on ramps at Route 917 to ease the fire department’s concerns.
“As far as safety, that’s a real big positive,” Bentleyville Fire Chief Ron Sicchitano Sr. said Tuesday.
The overall project also will require the demolition of five houses and the historic Newkirk Church, which had been converted into a restaurant, Pritts said. The nearby church cemetery will not be affected by construction. A sound barrier, meanwhile, will be created beside 15 houses near Route 917.
PennDOT will announce a final design for the project in March 2015 and likely begin construction there the following September. The work is expected to be completed by fall 2018.
PennDOT will construct a new I-70 overpass for Route 917 traffic and eliminate the highway’s overpass along Bentleyville Road. The I-70 bridge over Pigeon Creek also will be rebuilt to allow for six lanes of traffic as opposed to the existing four lanes.
A left-turn-only lane will be added to much of the Wilson Road business district to help eliminate rear-end vehicle collisions, Moore said.
State Sen. Tim Solobay said 90 percent of the initial local concerns about the project had been addressed by PennDOT.
“It’s going to make things better,” said Solobay, D-Canonsburg. “Most of the concerns are about the roundabout. I think it’s the fear of the unknown.”