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Corridor connection improvement between Unity and Mt. Pleasant Borough being studied | TribLIVE.com
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Corridor connection improvement between Unity and Mt. Pleasant Borough being studied

Jeff Himler

PennDOT is accepting public comment on its latest concept for improving the 11-mile traffic corridor connecting Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity with Mt. Pleasant Borough. That preliminary concept calls for a bypass running east of Pleasant Unity.

John Petulla, project manager for PennDOT consultant McCormick Taylor, explained that by channeling traffic from Route 981 eastward onto parallel Route 2023 (Bell Memorial Church and Hill Churches roads), the corridor alignment will be “fairly linear versus something that curves.”

There are fewer driveways along 2023, which “helps in reducing the amount of (traffic) conflict points,” Petulla said.

Detouring around Pleasant Unity, motorists would access the village by exiting from 2023 onto Route 130 at an interchange with good sight distances, he said. Vehicles that enter the community on Route 981 must negotiate either a sharp turn onto Main Street (Route 130) approaching from the south or a sharp curve from the north.

“A lot of trucks can't make that turn,” Petulla said.

John Bacha, chief of the volunteer fire department in Pleasant Unity and supervisor of a funeral home in the village, said a realignment along 2023 should work out fine for the department and for the business, provided there is a good access point for the community at the intersection of Route 130.

Chairman John Mylant noted that Unity supervisors can't control what will happen with the project but said he is in favor of the alignment using 2023, believing it would be safer for motorists. “There are tight maneuvers if you come up through Pleasant Unity,” he said.

About $68 million is budgeted for the project's construction, with work on the first phase tentatively slated for 2024, said Troy Pritts, project manager for PennDOT.

Planners have divided the corridor in Unity and Mt. Pleasant townships into three sections that each can be constructed independently. The southernmost section stretches from Route 819 to Norvelt, closely following existing 981, and likely would be constructed first, Petulla said.

He said the project would “improve curves south of Norvelt, where we've seen a number of crashes with injuries.” A roundabout is being considered as one of the options for improving Norvelt's key intersection of Route 981 with Hecla, Mt. Pleasant and Kecksburg roads, he said.

The central section of the corridor would follow 2023 north to Route 130. The northernmost section would reconnect with 981 south of the airport.

Mt. Pleasant Township Supervisor Duane Hutter said the conceptual alignment is similar to what township officials had supported for more than a decade as various proposals have been floated for improving the corridor.

“Overall, it would be the best one for the whole township,” he said.

Others may visit laurelvalleyproject.com to weigh in on the corridor plans and view project documents. The next meeting to update the public on the project likely will be in July, Pritts said.

PennDOT has yet to settle on a preferred alignment for a 2-mile section of 981 between Norvelt and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Petulla said a study of environmental impacts will help determine whether to veer west from the existing route.

PennDOT has received a $50,000 federal grant to help pilot a new Infrastructure Voluntary Evaluation Sustainability Tool, or INVEST, as it moves forward with the Laurel Valley project. PennDOT will complete an internal scorecard, tracking how well it employs “best practices” for planning, design, construction and maintenance.

“There are 30 some criteria you measure yourself against as you advance the project,” Pritts said.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter @jhimler_news.

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