PennDOT Will Decide

The future of a traffic light at Liberty St. and Pennsylvania Ave. has shifted from discussion to action.

In a 6-1 vote, Warren City Council approved a motion to send a letter to PennDOT requesting an engineering traffic study at the intersection.

City Engineer Douglas Sceiford said that the study would be utilized “to determine whether a light at this intersection is consistent with (the) present day standard.”

Department of Public Works Director Mike Holtz said that there is no cost to the city for the studies.

But there is a catch.

“(The) letter does commit the city to funding” the installation of the light should PennDOT determine “that the light should be reinstalled,” he added.

City Solicitor Andrea Stapleford cautioned council that there are “very few instances where a municipality can be held liable. This is one of them. This is an exception where the city can be sued. If this is not approved, and we don’t move forward, there is a great potential that if there was an accident at that intersection for the city to be held liable.”

She explained that the law includes an awareness standard where the city has to be aware of the potential liability before action can be taken against it. Citing the press coverage and council discussions on the issue, she speculated that such a standard has been met in this case.

Cost estimates presented at the Feb. meeting of council estimate the project at approximately $150,000.

“I still am awed by this $150,000 number as I think others are as well,” Councilman Dr. Howard Ferguson said. In the letter, that cost estimate is included and Ferguson suggested that the estimate be left out. “By putting this in there, we’re committing a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he said.

Sceiford cautioned that PennDOT “wants you to be aware of what you are committing to. That’s why that was put in there.”

“There will be competitive bidding,” he added, noting that the competition could drive the total cost of the project down. “I think we hope that is a high number but that is a number coming back to us from very knowledgeable people who do this for a living.”

Councilman Sam Harvey asked Sceiford to speculate what the outcome of the study might be.

“(It) will have to do with peak volumes, traffic counts,” he said. “You don’t know where you sit without doing the study. No, we don’t exactly know where we stand. At two particular points in the day it is very congested. Other than that it is not.”

He said pedestrian traffic is part of the study.

“There are people with their heads down who almost get hit,” Councilman Jim Zavinski said after spending some time watching the intersection. “I for one think we have to put that light back in. In the long run, it has to go up.”

Mayor Mark Phillips asked if there were more elements to the project than putting up a pole, stringing a wire and hanging a light.

Holtz said that the corner of the intersection by the main office of Northwest Savings “hasn’t been touched. He explained that, with the granite curbs and the heated sidewalk, estimates on that work range from $20,000 to $50,000.

The other side of the intersection, where the construction trailers are currently located, needs work as well.

“There’s $60,000 worth of concrete work alone,” Holtz said. He explained that the city has already purchased approximately $165,000 in parts for the traffic light.

Councilman Joe Sprentz, who was sworn in earlier in the evening and the sole vote in opposition of the study, proposed closing the first block of Liberty St. north of the intersection, turning the intersection into a three-way stop.

Sceiford said that the results of the study should be back “at the outside, three months” but, typically, “well within that.”

“I don’t see putting it up this year,” Holtz added.

Moving down one block, Councilman John Lewis said that a letter has been prepared and will be sent to PennDOT for a traffic study at the intersection of Pa. Ave. and Market St. Lewis said that the study will review the left turn signal for motorists looking to turn from Pa. Ave onto Market St. He is proposing that left turns be permitted at the intersection for the entire duration of a green light, rather than just during the time permitted by the arrow. Originally approved as part of Streetscape, according to Lewis, “I look at this as something we really have to address. Let’s get the flow moving. You back up three cars and you block up two lanes.”