Local residents appeared to overwhelmingly support the new “diverging diamond interchange” planned for Interstate 70’s Murtland exit during a public review of the plans Thursday night.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said Paul Dodworth, who lives in South Strabane Township near the interchange. “It’s long overdue and an amazing engineering feat. Somebody had a wonderful concept.”
A stream of people walked through South Strabane’s No. 2 Fire Station to review the plans Thursday night and speak with a handful of state Department of Transportation experts explaining the unusual design that will be the first of its kind in the state.
Construction on the $57 million project begins in September and will, in addition to the diverging diamond interchange on Route 19, increase traffic to three lanes in each direction on I-70 from the I-79 north junction to East Beau Street exit.
“I think it will work once people get used to it,” South Strabane resident Rich Gossard said. “It’s worth putting up with the temporary inconvenience (of construction) for the improvement. It’s about time for it.”
Gossard praised the decision to widen the lanes as traffic has increased along the I-70/79 corridor.
“You’ll have a better product than what we have out there now,” he said.
That feeling was shared by others as they reviewed large maps hanging on easels and watched videos on large projector screens taking motorists through a computerized simulation of the unique interchange. Barry Lyons, PennDOT’s District 12 senior project manager, said the video demonstrations will “drive” people through the interchange before the first shovel strike the dirt.
“It gives a much better representation than we could do by explaining it,” Lyons said of the videos that will be uploaded to PennDOT’s website soon. “Seeing is believing. It’s a powerful tool.”
Lyons acknowledged that people were skeptical of the concept when they first presented the plans two years ago. He said the location and the ability to eliminate the cumbersome cloverleaf onramps made the Murtland exit a perfect spot to build the new interchange.
“This is becoming a more popular concept across the country,” Lyons said, adding that more diverging diamonds are being planned in Western Pennsylvania.
PennDOT officials believe the new interchange will be safer and cost less money to build than other potential designs. The interchange configuration requires traffic to cross over and switch lanes, with traffic signals directing the flow to allow motorists passage through the area or onto the interstate going in either direction.
Sherry Jefferson, who lives on Locust Avenue near one of the interstate overpasses, said her biggest concern is the construction noise so close to her home. Construction on those bridges several years ago was more than just a nuisance and she’s worried it will be a bigger problem during this project.
“We literally got no sleep last time,” Jefferson said.
Still, she had high praise for the diverging diamond interchange and how it is expected to make merge points safer.
“Right now, it’s very dangerous,” she said. “I’ve been involved in a lot of near-misses. It’s a necessity.”