By Michael Roknick
Herald Business Editor
SHARON — There’s little doubt, a roundabout is destined for Sharon.
PennDOT has given the green light for the project at the intersection of Connelly Boulevard and South Dock Street, Sharon City Manager Scott Andrejchak said Wednesday.
After PennDOT held public meetings on the issue earlier this year, most of the comments on the roundabout were generally positive, Andrejchak noted.
“My expectation is we’re getting a roundabout,’’ he said. “Is it a done deal? We are told, ‘Yes, it is.’ But I’ve been doing this long enough to know that nothing is a done deal.’’
PennDOT planners have already begun to notify property owners at the intersection, including The Herald, that easements will be sought to create the roundabout. Construction is set to begin in 2015 with a 2016 completion date.
A building at the southwest corner of the intersection that housed the former Sharon Meat Packing Co. will be demolished to make way for the project. That building would have been leveled even if the traditional four-way intersection remained because the road upgrade calls to give motorists a better line of view, PennDOT said. Gaining site control of all the land needed for the project will probably run through next year, Andrejchak said.
A major factor for the roundabout at the Sharon location is part of an overall plan to improve the attractiveness of the road, best known as the Broadway corridor, which stretches from East State Street to the Interstate 376 corridor at the Hermitage-Shenango Township border.
The roundabout is part of a $15.7 million road improvement project that will stretch from Roemer Boulevard in Farrell to Connelly in Sharon. The project will begin at Roemer, where PennDOT finished this year’s phase of the long-term project. Improvement in this final phase will mirror what was recently completed on the southern section, including new sidewalks and widening the road to add a third, turning lane.
But clearly the roundabout will be the signature piece of the project.
Preliminary plans call for the roundabout to have a single lane with a 160-foot diameter and a mostly circular look with a slight shift to the west, said Stephen Schettler, a PennDOT project manager overseeing this project. The design will have a modern look that will differ somewhat from European traffic circles.
“This is going to have a more flowing design that differs from traffic circles,’’ Schettler said.
The intersection averages 14,000 motorists a day, and PennDOT looked at a number of options, including keeping the site a traditional intersection. The roundabout was found to be the most efficient and safest for travelers.
When the roundabout is completed, the intersection’s traffic signals will be removed. The railroad crossing, 150 feet west of the intersection, will be upgraded with a gate and new warning lights, he added.
In recent years the Federal Highway Administration has directed states and municipalities to at least consider a roundabout with intersection-improvement projects. The town of Rochester in Beaver County recently had a roundabout installed near its central hub.
“It had some detractors at first,’’ Schettler said. “But it’s been very successful. From what I hear everyone seems to like it.’’
A roundabout is set to be installed next year in Waterford, Pa., and four others are in the design stage for northwestern Pennsylvania.
Roundabouts have been shown to be safer for motorists they are forced to drive at lower speeds, Shettler said.
“The accidents you get with roundabouts are more glancing, angle-type accidents versus T-bones and head on collisions,’’ he added.
A plus for the city is removing the traffic signal will reduce costs to the city.
“My understanding is with this we won’t have to pay for a new traffic light controller, which costs $20,000,’’ Andrejchak said.
Nate Clark, a Hempfield Township transportation consultant and local historian, said it’s hard to judge the effectiveness of the roundabout until a final design is presented.
“I’m trying to figure out what they’re trying to solve,’’ Clark said of the project. “I’ve gone through that intersection countless times and never did I go, ‘Wow, this needs to be straightened out.’’
As far as the traffic circle making motorists drive slower, the traffic light at the intersection already does that, he added.
Regardless, the immediate area involving the project has a storied past, Clark noted, as it was part of the Erie Extension Canal built in the 1840s. The fabled canal linked the Shenango Valley, Lake Erie and the Ohio River.
Barges floated up and down the canal carrying goods with a dock located in the area – which resulted in the road built along the stretch bearing the Dock Street name.
The area is close to the turning basin which allowed barges to change course. The basin – essentially a large pond – sat on what was the former Flower Lumber Co. Once construction begins, remnants of the old canal may be discovered, he added.
“That vicinity has been a key to Mercer County when it comes to transportation,’’ Clark said. “It will be interesting to see what they discover once they start digging.’’
It hasn’t been decided what will be located in the center of the roundabout, Shettler said, adding that the idea of a “gateway’’ look has been talked about. In older roundabouts statues or monuments were placed to give them visual appeal. But in modern times those were dropped in favor of safety.
“You don’t want anything that’s too opposing that causes a sight issue,’’ he said.