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PennDOT: Proposed road widening project to improve roadway facilities, reduce traffic congestion and crashes

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    An aerial shot of Route 443, looking west on a recent morning. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS

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Published December 07. 2019 08:08AM

 

Business owners opposed to a proposed road widening project in Mahoning Township are scheduled to meet with the state Department of Transportation about the issue.

Lehighton Borough manager Nicole Beckett said council members are invited to the meeting, tentatively scheduled for Dec. 16 at PennDOT’s Allentown office.

“The business owners have followed up with me regularly,” Beckett said.

Beckett said she would also ask for two dates in January to fit everyone’s schedule.

The project is intended to reduce traffic congestion and crashes, according to the state Department of Transportation.

However, several business owners went to November’s council meeting to object to the project.

Bill Klepeiss, general manager of Lehighton Ford, said the project could have a “crippling” effect on various properties and businesses located along the strip, and will likely cause them to close or relocate.

He said the coalition has contacted the office of the state representative and state senator, but the absence of any elected official support fighting to support the businesses is disappointing.

Klepeiss maintains that traffic congestion issues don’t exist. He said there’s no significant changes in the crash data to support the need for the project. He added that the coalition doesn’t believe there’s a need for a proposed third lane down by the section where the businesses are located.

He said the coalition is seeking ways to mitigate and minimize the impact to the businesses.

Beckett said the roadway improvement project is PennDOT’s, and that borough council is in the middle of it.

The need for the project

Ron Young, PennDOT spokesman, said that from Jan. 1, 2014, to Dec. 31, 2018, there were 115 crashes. Of the 115 crashes, he said 57 were rear-end crashes and 35 were angle crashes.

There was one fatality, Young said, adding that rear-end and angle-type crashes are typically associated with traffic congestion and turning movements.

Young said there are ways to measure traffic congestion and traffic studies.

“The design engineering team did perform traffic studies, and determined this section of Route 443 is a congested corridor,” Young said. “Probably not a surprise to anyone who drives on or owns property along the road.”

Young explained the reasoning for the project.

“The purpose of the project is to improve roadway facilities to reduce traffic congestion and crashes, and to improve the structural integrity and functionality of the bridges to eliminate deficiencies,” he said. “These improvements should be capable of effectively handling the expected vehicular needs of the public, emergency services and regional traffic within the surrounding area.”

Young added that this section of 443 has increased traffic volumes due to continued commercial development, resulting in traffic congestion and crashes that led local officials to request improvements.

He said proposed improvements to 443 were identified in the Central Carbon County Comprehensive Plan (October/November 2011), which includes Mahoning Township and Lehighton Borough. Young said one of the plan’s objectives is to “encourage and support safety, operational and capacity improvements along the 443 corridor.”

“PA 443 is also noted as a key problem area in the Carbon County Comprehensive and Greenway Plan, which recommends additional turn lanes, as well as controls to minimize additional unplanned commercial driveway entrances.

The 443 roadway was originally constructed in 1945 as two 11-foot wide by 9-inch thick, top-reinforced concrete slabs with 10-foot wide unpaved graded shoulders. Subsequent resurfacing projects added a 2½-inch surface over the concrete slabs and 4¾-inch thick variable-width paved shoulders.

“The existing pavement surface is in fair to poor condition,” he said. “Reflective pavement cracking has developed over the transverse and longitudinal joints in the underlying concrete pavement.”

Young said both the 443 and Route 248 projects are likely to be happening concurrently. One lane in each direction on 248 will remain open during the construction.

“The goal will be to keep two lanes of traffic open throughout the project,” he said. “Traffic will be shifted to one half of the road while construction takes place, then moved onto the new section while the other half of the road is constructed. There will be limited times when there is one direction of traffic being controlled by flaggers. Also, they will maintain all driveway access for property owners.”

Bids are expected to be put out next spring, with construction estimated to last three years.

Business owners react

Chris Nelson, owner of the Beacon 443 Restaurant, said she constantly looks out the windows of her restaurant and doesn’t see the need for a third lane.

“I honestly believe a third lane is a total waste of money,” Nelson said. “I think there are other options they should look at; I think they need to change the light configuration, change the timing of the lights.”

Instead, Nelson said she believes they could put a turning lane at the two intersections, noting there is one already at Graver Street.

Nelson downplayed the notion of traffic constantly backing up along the busy thoroughfare.

“I’m here all day and I don’t see any traffic backup,” she said. “Every now and then you do, during rush hour; the biggest problem here is trying to make a left turn out of here.”

Donna Kemfort, manager of the Boulevard Drive-In Restaurant, echoed Nelson’s thoughts.

“We just don’t believe there’s a need for the turn lane, maybe out further,” Kemfort said. “Where our area is here, we’ve sat here, we’ve watched, yes traffic does go through here; does it take you half-an-hour, 45 minutes to get to the bridge to Walmart? No, it doesn’t.”

However, Kemfort said the need for the turn lane isn’t the only thing they’re questioning.

“The big thing, really, is we’re questioning the amount of property that they’re trying to take, the amount of parking we’re going to lose,” she said. “We have a big bank behind us, we have nowhere to go.”

That, Kemfort said, is the really big concern.

“If we lose all that parking, that will drastically affect us because if the parking lot is full, customers aren’t going to stop, that’s going to cut into business a lot,” she said. “It’s kind of frustrating; it’s scary.”

Kemfort said a lot of the businesses have been on the strip for a long time.

“We employ anywhere from 45 to 50 people,” she said. “Some of them, this is their livelihood; this is how they pay their bills.”

Kemfort referenced the bridge project several years back as a recent example.

“We lost a lot of business; we never got that back,” she said. “And this is going to be a three-year project; we’re looking at that aspect of it, the future and how it’s going to affect all of us if they proceed and we lose all the parking.”

Kemfort spoke for other business owners.

“We just don’t feel there’s the need for them to take all of the property that they’re taking,” she said. “If it’s for safety, then that’s fine; that’s not our issue, we’re all for that.”

Kemfort said the businesses are looking for help.

“We’re open to any ideas,” she said. “Any suggestions that helps us stay in business, and keeps the community safe as well.”

 

 

Comments
Lehighton is a commuter town. There is no industry. The great people of this region need efficient access to get to their jobs. 443 has long been a major part of that access but has become and will become increasingly more congested. This is a step in the right direction. Honestly, it should be 4 lanes and the McCall bridge should be widened to support easy flow of traffic from 209 and 248.

I have lived in the region for over 40 years. That bridge and the 443 corridor have crippled Lehighton’s and Mahoning Township’s development.

With apologies to the Beacon and Boulevard, this is a solid step in the right direction that is long overdue. Your voices should be heard and solutions to your concerns should be addressed. What you will suffer in individual economic impact will benefit the greater good of the region and allow the 443 corridor to continue commercial development and bring much needed tax relief.

I would like to see Rep Heffley spearhead a “Master Plan” for the McCall Bridge and 443 corridor with Leadership from Lehighton, Mahoning Township, Weissport and Franklin Township. Get input from the current business owners and community.

That section of roadway is the major access to the growing Lehigh Valley and beyond, where the jobs are. The business owners need to look at the long term development. Better flow of traffic will mean more business in the long run. Partner with each other on parking. Buy the old Kia dealership. Look to your insurance policies to try to recover losses. Decrease your operating expenses in anticipation of a lull in business. These are better solutions in the short term for a long term gain. Shortsightedness with the McCall Bridge and 443 is what got us in this place to begin with. Don’t make the same mistake twice.
Very insightful comment.

Parking, use of business loss insurance if available, and tax recovery only makes sense. Team planning using the collection and sharing of the full information before a government agency dictates a solution. These ideals should be commonplace. Shifting bottlenecks only costs us all more in the long run.
The business owner who said there is an issue turning left out of his business, and doesn't see the need for a third turning lane, also doesn't see that center lane will allow people leaving all driveways (not just his) to cross just one lane of traffic to turn into the center lane if they want to travel to the left. Then they merge into the travel lane, when it is open. Doh! The center lane is not just for people exiting onto driveways. A center lane will be a huge improvement for everyone - it's common sense, which these complainers don't seem to be exercising.
I have a suggestion for the Boulevard. Make food that doesn't suck. Nobody likes to be served cold soggy fries that were bought at WalMart/SamsClub nor do they like 5/6 little pieces of freezer burned fish that is part of your cold fish and fries basket. The aroma of urinal cakes isn't too appetizing either. Start there, then worry about your parking.
I agree. I went in there once not too long ago and it smelled and had the feel of a nursing home. It was off putting for sure. I think everyone’s main gripe is a loss of land out front of their business. But both the Beacon and the Boulevard have more parking on the side. Neither business seems to be worried about the parking on their property. It’s mediocre at best.
I agree that the business should not sacrifice parking spots ... my suggestion is that this project should include adding additional parking behind the business that boarders town owned properties. I’m talking backfilling and adding retaining walls before the Road work is allowed to start. This idea will cost more and require the town to sacrifice as well.
I would like to know what the GM of Lehighton Ford is on, if he doesn't think there is a traffic congestion issue on Rt 443. Yes the McCall bridge should be widened unfortunately the wizards of ID couldn't see the forest through the trees when they replaced it the first time. I just hope they (PennDOT) has enough commonsense to place traffic signals along 443 while they are widening it.
Strange how these business owners, etc. don't ever see traffic congestion. Are they smoking some good spleef or just down playing the need for a lane upgrade? SMH, the restaurants are old, mediocre food, at best and I can't wait for some new, hopefully upscale, eateries to come into the area. Enough with the fast food crap. Widen that roadway and fix all the other damn roads already. My car is literally falling apart from all the craters and massive speed bumps throughout the town
Only reason Chris doesnt like the idea is because he will lose all that front parking. I see alot of close calls for accidents just right there because people just have to park right out front, they slowly back in, sit on the side and wait. I cant wait for that front parking to be gone, maybe it will force him to repave that shitty parking lot.

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