NEW BALTIMORE —
The Pennsylvania Turnpike came through the southern half of the state nearly 75 years ago, splitting this community from St. John The Baptist Roman Catholic Church.
This time, as plans are finalized to increase the width of the toll road from four to six lanes and make other significant improvements, a softer, gentler approach is being taken.
“When we came through in 1940 we basically split the church and the community,” engineering project manager Kevin Scheurich said Friday.
“(This time) we want to be sensitive to the community’s needs.”
For a stretch of more than 1 mile, a noise wall will be constructed in the hope of buffering the sound from the busy easy-west roadway, and the residents of New Baltimore are being asked for their opinions.
“We want people to let us know what they want these (noise walls) to look like,” Carl DeFebo, turnpike spokesman, said from Harrisburg on Friday.
The barriers are now recommended by state and federal guidelines anytime the turnpike commission undertakes a significant project, such as the nearly $200 million in work at and on both sides of New Baltimore.
Experts have studied the noise from the turnpike and its impact on New Baltimore since 2012.
The overall project, on the drawing board for several years, will involve reconstruction and widening of an 8-mile stretch in Somerset and Bedford counties.
The work will involve curve flattening on the highway, adding additional travel lanes and addressing a hillside slide situation that has been around since the time the highway came through in 1940, turnpike officials said.
The project also will impact six bridges, including three that carry turnpike traffic in the New Baltimore area.
Work on some of the structures is already underway or completed.
It also means the loss of an icon familiar to travelers for decades, a pull-off and two sets of steps allowing turnpike travelers easy access to the Catholic church.
Key in the noise barrier design is maintaining a view of the historic brick church for the residents of New Baltimore, Scheurich said.
One section of barrier running 1,700 feet will be close to 20 feet tall, while the second section will be 14.5 feet high and 3,900 feet long.
While completely transparent panels would be ideal for vision, because of the highway the bottom 8 feet will have to be concrete, Scheurich said.
The top half to two-thirds of the barriers will be transparent and can be colored or clear.
Residents attending a public meeting at the church Thursday were asked to vote on the option, while others will be mailed a ballot that must be returned to the commission office in Harrisburg by July 11.
Extra effort is also being made on replacement of the Findley Street Bridge, with the architecture to mimic the church, Scheurich said.
“It will be beautiful at the end of the day,” he said.
The widening project is needed to replace highway construction dating back many decades and to meet the demands of increased use of the toll road, turnpike officials said when the project was announced.
An updated construction schedule was provided by DeFebo on Friday:
- 2017: Construction starts on improvements and widening lanes in both directions west of New Baltimore.
- 2019: Construction starts on improvements and widening lanes in both directions east of New Baltimore.
- Work already underway on hillside stabilization just off eastbound lane west of New Baltimore.
Kathy Mellott covers transportation issues for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kathy mellotttd.