Plans to widen and modernize Interstate 70 between the South Junction flyover ramp and the Eighty Four exit are “cut and dry” compared to the unique diverging diamond interchange planned just a few miles down the road.
Still, the state Department of Transportation and the project’s lead designer consider the $50 million construction project to be just as important because it will improve safety and ease congestion in the 3.5-mile section of I-70 just east of Washington.
PennDOT engineers unveiled the new construction plans Thursday night and discussed the small right-of-way acquisitions needed to widen the highway’s median and shoulders and to reconfigure one curve near Wilson Road in South Strabane Township.
PennDOT District 12 Executive Director Joe Szczur called I-70 between Smithton and Washington “dysfunctional” and noted this is just one of many projects PennDOT is planning to improve the outdated highway. He said this reconstruction plan, which is slated to begin in summer 2016 and be completed three years later, likely will be combined into a “megaproject” with similar improvements between the East Beau Street exit and the South Junction.
“We have a lot to get done and a lot more we want to get done,” Szczur said. “That doesn’t come without a lot of hard work.”
It could also “set the stage” to possibly expand I-70 into a six-lane highway decades into the future, Szczur said.
Troy Pritts, PennDOT’s project manager, tried to ease concerns from affected landowners by showing them on a sprawling map that snaked across the South Strabane No. 2 Fire Department’s banquet hall the slivers of land they need to acquire.
“It’s pretty cut and dry,” Pritts said. “There’s not a lot to it.”
That was welcome news to Gladys and Douglas Cook, whose Lakeview Road property sits right on the edge of the eminent domain line. The couple’s home faces the new flyover ramp, so they’ve seen numerous crashes and traffic backups happen there and on other parts of I-70.
They and their Vance Station Road neighbor, Joan Plants, are pleased PennDOT is making improvements along the interstate.
“The new ramps have been a blessing,” Gladys Cook said. “They were long overdue.”
Although PennDOT will have to take small portions of 15 properties through the widening projects, Plants and the Cooks won’t be affected. Their biggest concerns at Thursday’s design unveiling were of noise and dust from construction, but they agreed it would be a worthy investment that will help motorists for years.
“We see all of those backups, so this should cut down on them,” Gladys Cook said. “All and all, it seems beneficial because there’s a lot of traffic.”
“Well, things change,” Douglas Cook added. “You can’t just do nothing.”
The biggest improvement motorists will see is a wider median around the concrete barrier and more spacious shoulders that will give cars enough room to pull off if needed. Other changes include lengthening the acceleration and deceleration lanes at the South Junction, reconfiguring a bend near the Eighty Four exit and relocation of Wilson Road.
PennDOT expects all four highway lanes to remain open to traffic during construction.