Motorists should be able to drive south on Route 43 and east on Route 40 from Walnut Hill Road by August 2006 if plans for two exit ramps unveiled by PennDOT Wednesday come to fruition.
At the third public meeting before bids on the estimated $7.5 million South Union Township project are opened May 22, Bill Beaumariage, chief engineer manager of PennDOT District 12, said that the ramps will allow drivers to make more use of Route 43 and open up Walnut Hill Road.
Input at the first public meeting led to five alternatives for the interchange. Those were narrowed to a proposal for two ramps at a public meeting six months ago. PennDOT engineers have fine-tuned the project specifications and are ready for bids.
In addition to the ramps, Walnut Hill Road will be resurfaced and a new concrete overlay will be added to the bridge. The two ramps added to Walnut Hill Road across from the existing ramp will be protected by traffic signals. Maintaining the traffic signals will be the only expense the township will incur for the project.
Once it is complete, “Drivers who are coming from Morgantown on Route 43 won’t have to merge onto Route 119,” said Beaumariage. “They can run parallel. We have tried to eliminate traffic conflicts.”
Beaumariage estimated the project will begin in August and take one year to complete.
Economic development will come at the same time, according to township officials.
Supervisor Tom Frankhouser said area businessman Tom Jamison has already begun work on a 100,000 square foot Shop ‘n Save center to be called Walnut Hill Plaza. In addition to the grocery store, other retail shops are planned. That development is scheduled for completion this year.
Frankhouser said the shopping center is just the first of several projects planned for the area, once Walnut Hill Road is no longer limited access.
“The last four or five years working with PennDOT shows what you can accomplish when you work in a partnership. Sen. (Richard) Kasunic also had a lot to do with this. Everyone recognizes the importance to the area of economic development.”
Fayette County Commissioner Vincent Vicites said the additional access provided by the Walnut Hill Interchange, plus the Mon-Fayette Expressway, will increase economic opportunities not only for South Union Township and neighboring Georges Township, but for all of Fayette County.
“This is the kind of project with a direct result, a direct impact from it,” he said. “I look for development to start as soon as work on those ramps start. Thousands of jobs could be created.”