At A Crossroads

To install a traffic light or not to install a traffic light.

That is the question as Warren City Council reviews its options for a proposed light to replace the current four-way stop at the intersection of Liberty Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

Council debated the possibility of not installing the light this year at a budget session last month, but discussion on the issue at Monday night’s council meeting focused more on the nature of the work and how it might be funded.

The issue was brought before council in the form of correspondence from Mark and Karen Davis, who claimed that they have seen pedestrians come close to getting hit at the intersection, expressing concern about potential “serious accident or loss of life,” according to the letter read by City Manager Nancy Freenock.

Councilman Sam Harvey asked whether “in the normal course of business” the light would be replaced.

“We do have the parts,” Freenock said.

One issue that has stood in the way of installing the traffic light is the work that would need to be done on the heated sidewalk on the northeast corner of the intersection by Northwest Savings Bank’s corporate office.

“We were originally told the whole sidewalk would need replaced,” Freenock said. “(DPW Director) Mike Holtz talked to Northwest and we will believe we will be able to work something out” to develop “not as extensive of a design.”

Holtz added, “Some (of the curb cuts) are good to go. Some have tubes in. Some have nothing.”

Councilman John Lewis asked whether, as a result of the streetscape project, all of that work should have been completed.

Holtz said that the corner with the heated sidewalk was not completed but that all of the “under the street” components of the light are in place. He added that the northeast corner and the southeast corner would need additional work should the light be installed.

Holtz, acknowledging that it was a rough estimate, indicated that the overall cost of the project would likely fall somewhere between $70,000 and $100,000.

“What would it take to get a finer estimate?” Council Vice President Maurice Cashman asked.

“Bid it,” Holtz said. “We have some relationships with some contractors that can get us closer on an unofficial number.”

Discussion then shifted to how the project might be funded.

Councilman Sam Harvey asked whether Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program funds, designated for Streetscape II, can be used.

“Yes,” Holtz said, explaining that the funding might not be available until next year. “(We’re) looking at 2014 to install the light.”

“We do have that grant out there where there are funds there,” Holtz said. “There is some timing where that might be another year yet. We can do the work and fine tune that number for council.”

“Is there any way we can do it in parts?” Councilman Chris Park asked. “Can we get the traffic lights up first?” without the crosswalk lights.

Holtz indicated that PennDOT wouldn’t approve such a proposal.

“We’ve been told someone is going to get hit at that intersection,” Park added. “What kind of legal ramifications are there to that?”

“There is potential for liability,” said City Solicitor Andrea Stapleford.

Holtz noted that the current arrangement “is a legal four-way intersection.”

But Lewis said, “We have a public out there who doesn’t understand the concept of a rotating right of way. (Replacing the light) will be cheaper this year than it will be next year by a large amount.”

Harvey asked whether liquid fuels money could be used to pay for the project if the city scaled back its paving proposal.

Holtz said that he was unsure whether that funding could be used for such a purpose but would explore the possibility.

Freenock expressed some concern about the status of the city’s fund balance should council elect to pay for installation this year. “We already know that for this year we are going to be using some fund balance to balance the budget,” she said, acknowledging that council could “entertain” using fund balance to pay for the project.

Council took no formal action, but Cashman asked city administration to refine the estimate to “give us a better sense of where we stand.” He added that funding for the project was not included in the 2013 budget.