Indiana Gazette: Regional transportation, infrastructure needs discussed by SPC

Indiana County Office of Planning & Development Executive Director Byron G. Stauffer Jr. opened a Thursday public meeting at PA CareerLink in White Township conducted by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission to gather feedback from area residents about long-term local transportation and infrastructure challenges. Seated at left is Ryan Gordon, SPC’s manager of Transportation Program Development.

The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission is in the homestretch of developing a Long-Range Transportation Plan that would update its 2019 “SmartMoves for a Changing Region.”

As adopted in June 2019, the SPC plan focused on more than $35 billion in programs and projects for the 10-county region’s transportation priorities over 25 years.

“We are thinking as a region, not just Indiana County,” said Indiana County Office of Planning & Development Executive Director Byron G. Stauffer Jr., who started off a two-hour public meeting about that plan Thursday at the PA CareerLink offices in White Township.

It was one of a series of meetings being held across the southwest corner of the state by SPC, which also covers Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Lawrence, Washington and Westmoreland counties, and the city of Pittsburgh.

As that plan is evolving toward approval next month, “there aren’t a lot of big changes here,” said Ryan Gordon, SPC’s manager of Transportation Program Development.

However, there were two significant ones over the past four years, Gordon said — the COVID-19 pandemic, and the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, signed into law by President Biden in November 2021.

From Indiana County, SPC board members include Stauffer, Commissioners R. Michael Keith, Robin A. Gorman and Sherene Hess, and Indiana County Chamber of Commerce President Mark Hilliard. Hess also serves on the board of SPC’s affiliate, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Corporation.

There were questions from some among the approximately three dozen participants, on topics ranging from passenger rail service to Homer City, to upgrading state Route 286 between Clymer and U.S. Route 219 in Cambria County, to traffic signals in Indiana.

As Indiana Borough Council President Peter Broad said to a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation District 10 official in the audience, “I didn’t get any sense that people were listening,” as PennDOT took out the traffic signal on Philadelphia and 11th streets in downtown Indiana.

As PennDOT District 10 Planning and Program Manager Harold Swan insisted after the meeting, “we want to work in coordination with our municipalities.”

While there has been a continuing emphasis on improving the U.S. Route 422 link between Indiana and the Route 28 interchange near Kittanning, some, including Keith, wondered about a similar improvement for state Route 286 in rural eastern Indiana and western Cambria counties.

“It is a key connection to (U.S. Route) 219 and (Interstate) 80,” said Indiana County Planning Commission member Laurie LaFontaine of White Township. “Once you leave Clymer, (286) is an awful road.”

Homer City Mayor Arlene Wanatosky brought up the railroad issue in light of the planned shutdown this summer of Homer City Generation L.P.’s power plant next door in Center Township.

“Are those tracks going to be maintained?” she asked.

Stauffer said it was too early to see what will unfold, but said efforts are being made to aid areas affected by the pending shutdown.

Wanatosky also suggested that those tracks could be used for passenger rail traffic, connecting Indiana County with the train service that goes through Greensburg.

The meeting also featured a slide presentation, that included projects that will be included in that long-range plan, such as:

  • Preservation of the Buena Vista Bridge carrying state Route 56 over Blacklick Creek in East Wheatfield Township (which has been renamed for Specialist Beverly S. Clark, who died in the Scud missile attack on the U.S. Army’s 14th Quartermaster Detachment in Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War).
  • The First Sergeant Alexander Kelly Memorial Bridge, carrying state Route 286 over the Kiskiminetas River between Saltsburg and Loyalhanna Township, Westmoreland County, and named for a Saltsburg native who won the Medal of Honor for his service in the Union Army during the Civil War.
  • U.S. Route 119 bridges over state Route 8001 (ramp to Business Route 422) and Hamill Road, both in White Township, as well as the Route 119 Indiana Bypass reconstruction, and Sullivan and Lutz School Road bridges.
  • U.S. Route 422 bridges over Ben Franklin and Indian Springs roads and Old Route 119, all in White Township, as well as Route 422 between the Armstrong County line and the Indiana Bypass.
  • U.S. Route 22 through Penn View, Blairsville and Armagh Bypass areas.
  • Wayne Avenue safety project in the Indiana area.

There also was a summary of $173.76 million in planned projects involving Indiana County Transit Authority, or IndiGO, including more than $140 million for operations and maintenance, as well as funding for vehicles, bus stops and parking lots.

It was hardly a full listing — as was pointed out from the audience Thursday, one project not included is the widening of Oakland Avenue, a $19.83 million project that is expected to continue through the end of this year.

SPC plans other meetings such as that for Indiana County, including gatherings on May 23 at Butler County Community College’s Ford City campus, 1100 Fourth Ave., Ford City, for Armstrong County, and on May 30 for Westmoreland County in the Commissioners Public Meeting Room at the county courthouse along North Main Street in Greensburg.

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