The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

November 25, 2012

Lack of funding puts Portage intersection project on hold

Kathy Mellott
kmellott@tribdem.com

PORTAGE — Plans to pull tri-axle coal trucks off the curb and sidewalk at a busy Portage intersection likely will not be carried out anytime soon after one of the players indicated it will not come up with some of the cost.

A tentative deal, which local officials and PennDOT worked on for months, appears to have fallen apart after Amfire Mining Co. LLC of Latrobe said it will not provide the estimated $100,000 as a share of intersection improvement costs.

At issue is the intersection of Route 164 (Main Street) and Dulancey Drive and the estimated 600 coal trucks daily that run through the busy area traveling to and from the Amfire coal cleaning plant in Sonman, Portage Township.

The right turning radius toward Route 53 is narrow with trucks struggling against a steady flow of traffic through the Norfolk Southern underpass on Main Street.

“I’m thankful to have the jobs in the area,” Portage Borough Manager Bob Koban said of the mining and trucking industry. “But if we didn’t have that (coal cleaning plant) up there, the trucks wouldn’t be coming through.”

Coal trucks often cross over the Dulancey Drive and Route 164 intersection curb.

The steady, five-day-a-week truck traffic has worn off the curb and decimated the sidewalks, borough officials said.

“They’ve destroyed it,” said Councilman Marty Slanoc.

“There’s not even a concern about missing the curb.”

Cost of fixing the problem is estimated at $600,000. The state is willing to come up with the bulk of the money, PennDOT District Executive Tom Prestash said.

The borough has committed to $35,000 of the cost, and Mike Stager, owner of the vacant tract at the intersection, had agreed to donate land needed to widen the intersection and turning radius.

The Amfire contribution was the final piece in the puzzle.

A couple months ago, Amfire officials told the borough of a company grant program to deal with community concerns.

An application for the money was made by the Portage Regional Planning Commission.

Koban and others said they thought the Amfire contribution was a done deal. That is, until Amfire let it be known that the money would not be forthcoming.

Tough economic times were cited as the reason, Koban and planning commission Chairman Dick Rice said.

Attempts to reach out to Amfire for comment were not successful.

In talks with borough officials, Amfire officials have maintained that the trucks using the intersection are independent or working for a contractor and not Amfire employees.

Rice said the trucks have little choice but to go over the curb, and Amfire has taken other steps to help minimize the impact of the trucks through town.

The company has vacuum trucks out cleaning up coal escaping from the tri-axles and on dry summer days water trucks are out in an attempt to minimize coal dust.

“They have made provisions,” Rice said.

The commission has looked into alternate routes to take the trucks out of town, but a substandard bridge takes the road through Jamestown out of the running and the road to Route 53 over Peanut Hill is out of the question because of a hairpin curve, Rice said.

The Dulancey Drive intersection has been on

PennDOT’s radar screen for some time, Prestash said, but there is no money to pay for the work.

“We know there are issues up there and we’re hoping something will break on their part,” he said.

“Amfire is the main user of that road.”

Losing Amfire from the funding formula does not mean the intersection will not be redone. But any improvement likely will be years in the future, Prestash said.

“If we’d get some cost sharing in there, maybe we could advance it,” Prestash said. “But it’s not on our transportation program,” he said.

With Amfire on board it would be a lot easier to go to PennDOT’s central office in Harrisburg in search of money left from other projects that cost less than estimated.

“If there would be local effort, it would get attention from the state level,” Prestash said. “It kicks in a new meaning. It says that this matters to the community.”