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Harris Township Asks PennDOT to Address Safety Concerns on Shingletown Road

by on September 18, 2019 11:04 AM

For nearly two decades, Harris Township officials have been asking PennDOT to address safety concerns along Shingletown Road/Route 45. While some of those issues have been addressed over the years, others remain.

But now the township is hopeful its latest request to address those concerns about speed, brush overgrowth and a potentially dangerous passing zone will be heeded.

After sending a letter to PennDOT last week, township manager Amy Farkas said she had a lengthy conversation on Monday with PennDOT District 2 highway safety supervisor Ryan Collins about the speed limit and signage. Collins said he is looking into traffic calming measures for the road.

"I'm very encouraged by the conversation," Farkas said.

The issues arose at the Harris Township Board of Supervisors meeting on Sept. 9, when Farkas said the township received a letter from a resident expressing concerns following a crash in August in which a 16-year-old bicyclist was seriously injured after being struck by a car on Shingletown Road near Mountain Road.

State College police said on Tuesday that the driver in the crash does not appear to have been at fault. The bicyclist did not have required lighting and was wearing dark clothes on the unlit road after dark.

But the concerns about the road go much further back, with the township requesting changes in 2000, 2010, 2016 and 2018.

"Staff encouraged the resident to reach out to Sen. [Jake] Corman  and Rep.[Kerry] Benninghoff as the township’s efforts to have PennDOT address speed limit concerns and brush overgrowth have largely fallen on deaf ears in previous years," Farkas said at the meeting.

Last year, PennDOT agreed to lower the speed limit from 55 miles per hour to 45 miles per hour between Windmill Road and Boal Avenue/South Atherton Street after a request from the township and supporting documentation from State College police. 

But, Farkas said, the road is inconsistently signed with conflicting speed limits on the east and west side, and three different speed limits — 45, 35 and 55 — posted on the west side. That had not been fixed despite the township calling it to PennDOT's attention, Farkas said.

The township also renewed its request to lower the speed limit to 45 miles per hour for the remainder of the road to the Harris/Ferguson line. Farkas said she was told by PennDOT the road is classified as rural so the 55 miles per hour speed limit was justified.

"As the traffic counts from the Route 45/26 study show, traffic has greatly increased on this road, as Penn State has located more offices in the western end of Ferguson Township and motorists have sought relief from Atherton Street," Farkas wrote in the letter to PennDOT. "Simply put, due to the high volume of growth in our area, this road should no longer be classified as rural."

Township supervisors agreed that the area has become more residential and no longer warrants a 55 miles per hour speed limit.

"My comment is the same as it’s been for quite some time: why do we have a 55 speed limit right through Shingletown, a residential area?" supervisor Nigel Wilson said. "I don’t understand why they can’t just put it at least past Shingletown, and the township line would be great."

"With the driveways and the houses right there it feels like it ought to be 45 and that’s the speed I go," supervisor Bruce Lord said. "I slow down because it just makes sense."

Farkas also wrote that when the speed limit issue has been brought up in the past, PennDOT has said the township needs to ask State College police to do more enforcement. But the state will not allow the township to put up speed display signs to capture real-time data, making enforcement more difficult.

"At some point, the department needs to stop pinning the issue on someone else and take ownership of the serious speeding problem on its road," Farkas wrote.

The township also requested that a passing zone at West Branch Road be removed. In 2010, the township asked PennDOT to remove that passing zone and another near Hess Field. While the one at Hess Field was removed, the one at West Branch Road remained.

New development in the area now justifies removal of that passing zone, Farkas wrote.

Roadside mowing and brush removal have been another concern. Farkas said the stretch of road had been mowed only once in 2019, in July before Arts Festival and People's Choice. Heavy brush overgrowth, particularly at the intersection with Woodside Drive, which is also a PennDOT road, has caused sightline issues.

Farkas said township staff left a message with PennDOT District 2 in the summer asking if they could trim the brush themselves, but did not receive any response.

At the direction of the supervisors, who were concerned about safety at the intersection, township staff cut back the brush last week.

"I can’t comprehend why we can’t get a response out of PennDOT," supervisor Frank Harden said. "This is a liability issue when they aren’t mowing and they aren’t cutting back the brush that’s dangerous for everybody."

Farkas said that the lack of mowing over the past two years has reached the point that grass and weeds have been in violation of township ordinance for most of the summer.

"We shouldn’t have to beg to get them to do their job," she said.

Farkas said she reached out to Corman's and Benninghoff's offices, who found out that the next mowing was scheduled for Sept. 23.

PennDOT District 2 press officer Marla Fannin said on Tuesday the department had received the request from Harris Township to study the area and was in the process of responding.

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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