Readers take highway projects in stride, but Miners Mills bridge a sore spot

Last updated: July 28. 2014 2:27AM - 950 Views
By James O’Malley jomalley@civitasmedia.com

A worker in a heavy machine digs a ditch at the West Sidney Street bridge project where construction finally restarted recently.
A worker in a heavy machine digs a ditch at the West Sidney Street bridge project where construction finally restarted recently.
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Major PennDOT Projects in Luzerne County

• A $20.7 million project in Plains Township includes rehabilitation and improvement of a section of I-81, both North and South and replacement of two bridges over Jumper Road, and two bridges over Sunset Road. Work began in May 2013 and is scheduled for completion in July 2016.

• A $27.7 million project near Jenkins Township to rehabilitate and improve sections of I-81 between Exits 170 and 175 to replace four bridges began March 2014 and should be completed October 2017.

• A $42.1 million project in Dupont is reconstructing Exit 178 of I-81 and Airport Access Road, and will create three roundabouts, new on and off ramps, as well as Navy Way, which will connect Terminal Road to Commerce Road. Work started in June 2013 and is scheduled for completion in November 2015.

• A $5.2 million “Safety Improvement Project” will widen the rock cut along Route 309 near Mountain Top, with the aim of keeping falling rocks and runoff water out of the highway.

It’s not uncommon in July to enter a Northeast Pennsylvania highway just to discover some massive, never-ending construction project has turned the road into a parking lot.

Perhaps the region’s drivers are so used to such obstructions that they’ve stopped complaining, or maybe the stalled-traffic phenomenon took a summer vacation in 2014. Either way, when the Times Leader asked its readers to post their roadwork season woes to its Facebook page last week, the people were silent.

But with a project to expand a rock cut reducing a stretch of Route 309 near Mountain Top to one lane in either direction, the town’s small businesses must be feeling something, right?

“It is a busy strip, but business has been steady,” said John Perillo, co-owner of Top of the Mountain Computer Services.

Only a few customers have called to say they couldn’t make it to the store, Perillo said, and he hasn’t personally run into much traffic trouble when making house calls.

The only issue he’s had with the work near Route 309 happened when a blasting mishap closed a section of the highway for a few hours, he said.

“Around four or five it gets crazy,” he said. But then again, he added, it always has.

However, at least one project continues to frustrate residents in the Miners Mills section of Wilkes-Barre.

For 14 months, a stalled project to build a new bridge spanning Mill Creek on West Sidney Street has forced a small community to detour through an abandoned factory just to make it home.

Construction finally continued on the project recently, but Michele Schmidt, who lives just two houses away from where the bridge used to be, said she’s only seen work going on for a few hours each day.

The project has made parking on West Sidney Street problematic, she said, and trucks making delivery or removing garbage are forced to reverse down the street.

Also, she added, trying to explain the detour to visitors can be troublesome.

“I’m getting used to it I guess,” Schmidt said.

She said the project has complicated life for her two children as well.

“It’s more difficult for the kids going to school,” she said.

Their school bus stops at the corner of North Washington and West Sidney streets, Schmidt said, but the with the bridge out, they have to take the detour to cover what should be a short distance.

Joe Gibbons, of nearby Coon Street, has been outspoken about his frustrations with the long-running project before, but he said he’s glad to see work has finally continued.

His street has also been subject to a detour since construction crews closed the outlet to West Sidney Street last September. Gibbons said the detour has created a dangerous environment similar to West Sidney Street. Delivery trucks and heavy vehicles involved with the project pose a hazard for children playing on the narrow road.

“I understand these jobs take time,” he said. “There was no need for this for 14 months.”

The state Department of Transportation said the West Sidney Street bridge project, a $2.8 million job, is on track to be completed this September.

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