Route 61 project moves forward
DEER LAKE - Despite some lingering issues, the Route 61 split pair project in Deer Lake is moving forward.
"It is still in design. It hasn't started construction," Ron Young Jr., a spokesman for PennDOT District 5, said Wednesday.
The $35.5 million project is part of the "12 Year Transportation Program" and was adopted May 19 by the State Transportation Commission. The project is one of many on the list.
The project spans Route 61 through parts of West Brunswick Township and Deer Lake Borough from the intersection with Brick Hill Road in the township to a section south of 895 in Deer Lake. Included in the plans are more than four miles of Route 61 and roughly two miles of new southbound lanes not yet built, according to Republican-Herald archives. Jug handles, median dividers and three new traffic lights are also planned.
PennDOT has seized nearly 100 properties near Route 61 for the project. On Wednesday, one of those properties - a former gas station - was being demolished on the north side of Route 61 because of the building's close proximity to the highway, said Mike Keiser, assistant district executive for design at PennDOT's District 5 office.
Contractors will take care of the few remaining properties that need to be addressed, Keiser said.
Construction on the highway could begin late this year or in early spring next year, Young said, with completion possible in 2014.
"All these dates are estimates still," he said. According to the 12-year plan, the project was to begin in October 2010 and be completed in September 2014.
One of the problems that still needs to be addressed is the ownership of a planned traffic light at Route 895 within the borough of Deer Lake. The borough council has previously said it will not take ownership of any traffic lights in the borough.
"We're not opposed to the light," Dave Crouse, Deer Lake council president, said by phone Wednesday. "The issue is ownership."
PennDOT installs but does not own traffic signals in the commonwealth - with the exception of nine installed before the state-drafted regulations assigning operation and ownership of signals to local governments, according to the newspaper archives.
Ownership is an issue because whichever governmental body owns the light is responsible for associated costs, liability and future upgrades.
Keiser said he does not view the traffic light issue as an insurmountable one.
"There's enough momentum on this project that I feel it will be worked out," he said.
The worse-case scenario, Keiser said, is that there would be no traffic light at the intersection, meaning there would be "no crossover or left turns in any direction at 895 without a traffic signal."
Adding a barrier at the intersection would be an option, Keiser said, but "the general layout of the plan would not change."
Another issue facing the project is that there are still some outstanding permits that PennDOT needs from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
According to newspaper archives, PennDOT submitted the plan to the Schuylkill County Conservation District for review last year, but the plan was "found to be not adequate for erosion and sediment pollution control and does not meet the minimum requirements of the state Department of Environmental Protection's rules and regulations."
"We're still working through those issues," Keiser said, referring to the erosion and sedimentation control plan and the traffic light. Also outstanding is a right-of-way issue, but Keiser said he does not see it as a problem and did not offer further details on it.
Neither representatives from DEP nor the Schuylkill County Conservation District were available for comment Wednesday on the outstanding permits.