City council revisits Penn-Liberty intersection

For the third consecutive month, Warren City Council discussed what to do with the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and Liberty Street at its meeting Monday night.

In essence, the city has two choices: keep the current four-way stop or reinstall a traffic signal at the intersection.

But putting the signal up is not going to be cheap.

Department of Public Works Director Mike Holtz was tasked last month with determining whether the city could use its liquid fuels allocation, which typically pays for the paving projects in the city, to pay for installation of the traffic light.

“We did check into it and it is possible to use the state liquid fuels funds to install the light,” he told council on Monday. The city typically receives approximately $200,000 in such funding.

To obtain a more accurate estimate on what the traffic signal would cost, city staff met with representatives from PennDOT, a traffic light contractor and Northwest Savings Bank. “We met for an hour and a half,” Holtz explained. “It was a spirited discussion. (We) learned a lot of things. Because the light has been down for more than two years, PennDOT is requiring that the city start over with traffic counts and traffic studies. These aren’t insurmountable hurdles, but they are hurdles.”

There is one more costly hurdle, though.

In the original design, Liberty Street was wider and had a median in it. That component of the Streetscape work was never completed. Because of that, the project would need to be re-engineered before the light could be installed.

Part of the redesign would include “extend(ing) one of the mast arms to accommodate the larger stretch it would need,” Holtz said.

While the city is in possession of the parts needed to install the light, the poles are not designed for the current intersection configuration. “The mast arm is certainly a factor” in the costs, Holtz said, indicating that those cost between $8,000 and $10,000.

In spite of the hurdles, Holtz said, “PennDOT was very cooperative. They were willing to work with the city.”

Asked for an updated estimate, he said the project could fall “in the $150,000 range.” He added that because of the redesign and traffic studies, the most likely timeframe in which the light could feasibly be installed is spring of 2014.

City Manager Nancy Freenock explained PennDOT offered to work with the city because the city is already in possession of the parts. “They also did express the sentiment that PennDOT is taking the position (it is) better to take lights down than keep installing them,” she said.

She noted PennDOT would consider the four-way stop as a permanent solution if the city was agreeable. “PennDOT offered to do the traffic counts and traffic studies,” she said.

Councilman Dr. Howard Ferguson asked, “When is it (the intersection) dangerous? Until we have a long-term solution, which appears to be difficult and expensive, might we be able to staff it with an officer?”

“Certainly that can be accomplished on an interim basis,” Police Chief Raymond Zydonik said.

“I think we’ve got to go back a couple steps (and) decide are we going to put it (the light) in there or not,” Councilman Jim Zavinski said. “What the time frame is, I don’t know right now. The cost is going to be more the longer we wait.”

“PennDOT has taken the position…for liability purposes, once you throw down the gauntlet and say we want a study done, we have two years to have it (installation) completed,” Zydonik added.

Holtz explained that the city would have to sign a document with the state committing to complete the project. “The city would need to decide, before we decide to start down the road, (whether) this is something we want to see through to the end.”

“We need pedestrian control,” Councilman John Lewis said. “They walk straight down, they never even look. We have some impatience living in town.”

“Is there anything short of a light that can be put in to control pedestrian traffic?” Councilman Sam Harvey asked.

“I’m not familiar with anything,” Holtz said.

Mayor Mark Phillips said that the issue will be revisited at the March council meeting.