As manager of the Westmoreland County borough, McLaughlin is well aware of traffic congestion the old interchange caused for residents and firms such as UPS, FedEx and SuperValu that have distribution warehouses there. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s decision to move the interchange 800 feet west, add longer entrance and exit ramps, install roundabouts and upgrade bridges on Center Avenue should have a positive effect, he said.
“It is going to reduce congestion on Center Avenue,” McLaughlin said. “We are looking at this as a big relief for our residents and businesses.”
PennDOT officials said the decision to relocate the interchange also moved it farther from the I-70 interchange with the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Having the New Stanton interchange with short ramps so close to the turnpike led to backups on both highways, they said.
Several elements apart from the interchange will benefit the borough. PennDOT included three roundabouts in the project — full roundabouts on each side of the interchange and a third, partial one nearby at Bair Boulevard that can be completed when adjacent land is developed.
Roundabouts are counter-clockwise traffic circles that permit right turns at exits to eliminate cross-traffic intersections. They are common traffic-calming, congestion-easing tools in Europe and other states, but they rarely have been used in Pennsylvania.
Rachel Duda, a designer for PennDOT, said roundabouts will become more common in the state because the department recently adopted a policy for them to be the default design for all intersections unless they physically won’t work due to lack of space or rough topography. They are a major safety improvement, she said, because they slow traffic while keeping it moving and sharply reducing side-impact crashes that often cause serious injuries and damage.
Motorists may need an adjustment period, Duda said, but drivers in other parts of the state have quickly gotten used to roundabouts.
“[Roundabouts] are kind of new to Pennsylvania. We’re behind the times,” Duda said. “In terms of safety and capacity, it’s where you want to start.”
The project includes a new road, Rachel Drive, that links West Byers Avenue to Bair Boulevard. PennDOT said the community asked for that road to provide additional access to the borough’s business district. Another part of the project, upgrading two Center Avenue bridges, is just beginning.
The Center Avenue Bridge that crosses I-70 will close March 6 and will remain closed for 100 days while it is replaced. The Sewickley Creek Bridge a short distance away is expected to close March 15 for 130 days for deck replacement.
Part of the work includes new sidewalks on the bridges, something McLaughlin said residents requested to improve pedestrian access to the business district.
The interchange project and related work should be positive for the borough, said Domenic Caruso, PennDOT’s acting construction engineer for the district. Joseph B. Fay Co. was the general contractor for the $53 million project, which will finish a year ahead of schedule.
“This is going to be so much better than what the people of New Stanton are used to,” Caruso said. “New Stanton is not going to be a place people go out of their way to avoid anymore.”