By Courtney L. Saylor
Herald Staff Writer
Movie patriarch Clark Griswold dissolves into crazed laughter and tears when he “just cannot get left” in a London roundabout in the comedy “European Vacation,” but Sharon City Manager Scott Andrejchak hopes a proposed one in Sharon won’t cause such frustrations for motorists if approved.
PennDOT is holding a public hearing at 6 p.m. Dec. 4 to present options to update the intersection of South Dock Street and Connelly Boulevard and hear citizen input.
Don Hall, PennDOT assistant district executive for design, said a roundabout is being considered because the intersection has been “problematic” for trucks, but the opening of Budd Street to the east a couple of years ago has diverted some of the truck traffic away from the intersection.
Andrejchak said PennDOT decided to include the Dock Street-Connelly Boulevard intersection at the end of the widening of state Route 760, which is ongoing.
He said city officials are happy the busy junction will be upgraded and PennDOT has two options on the table: The roundabout and a design that would open up the turning area.
Either approach would involve changes to the intersection, Andrejchak said, and could include the building on the southwest corner being razed and loss of parking in lots nearby.
“We’re keeping an open mind,” Andrejchak said. “We’re not opposed to this, necessarily, but we need more information. There are advantages to each.”
The roundabout would create a unique gateway into the city, which experts have said is needed, make turns easier for large trucks and eliminate the electricity cost of signals, he said.
Safety is the utmost concern, he said, and the proximity to the Norfolk Southern Railway crossing on Connelly is also something officials worry about.
“I think it could be intimidating to someone navigating that for the first time,” Andrejchak said of the clockwise circle with four spoke exits.
The roundabout will cost a little more than renovating the intersection with a new traffic signal, Hall said.
Maintenance and operating costs are usually lower, according to the Federal Highway Administration. PennDOT literature said roundabouts have “fewer conflict points, slower speeds and easier decision-making” for drivers. They carry about 30 percent more vehicles than signaled intersections at peak hours and cause almost no delay for drivers when it’s not busy, according to PennDOT.
There are also federal mandates to consider such installations when doing infrastructure projects, Andrejchak said. A 2007 study in Maryland, which has among the highest number of roundabouts in the country, showed a 65 percent reduction in accidents at converted sites between 1993 and 2003.
The number of roundabouts in the United States has gone up from nearly none to 2,000 in the last 20 years, according to Oregon-based transportation experts Kittelson & Associates. There were roundabouts in three states in 1992 and by 2002 they existed in 33.
The work would be done during the final phase of widening Route 760, known locally as Broadway Avenue in Wheatland, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Farrell and South Dock Street in Sharon.
“At this point, it looks like an engineering decision, if it will fit,” Hall told the Mercer County Metropolitan Planning Organization Tuesday.
Andrejchak said it would likely be 2014 or 2015 before the plan is implemented.
“We’ll see how people feel about it,” said Andrejchak, noting that opinions seem to be strongly for or against the idea right from the start. “We want to do what’s best for the city, what’s best for the citizens and what’s best for motorists.”
Andrejchak said it seems PennDOT officials are leaning toward the roundabout option, but will consider city officials’ and citizens’ input. The time for folks to learn and speak out about the proposal is at the Dec. 4 meeting.
Herald staff writer Joe Pinchot contributed to this story.