Maybe you've noticed the new traffic light support poles going up at various intersections around town.
It's part of a new push to improve safety on busy State College roads.
Currently, workers are upgrading the light stands at several intersections including South Pugh Street and East College Avenue, Pugh and East Beaver Avenue and on North Atherton Street at Hillcrest Avenue.
According to State College Public Works Director, Mark Whitfield, the job on North Atherton Street started after one pole was hit by a car for the third time in two years. "The last hit cracked the pole, necessitating it’s replacement," he says.
As part of that replacement project the traffic light control box is being moved across the street, closer to the College Heights School, so it will be a less inviting target. New street lights and signage are also being installed.
The new street lights will be induction fluorescent fixtures that give off a white light instead of the old "orangish" light. They'll be attached to the traffic signal mast arm pole, eliminating two “extra” poles that used to hold overhead street lights. Whitfield says that's less things for cars to run into and also cleans up ”the intersection for pedestrians" since there will be fewer poles to navigate around.
Additional poles now hold signage that direct drivers to the proper turn lanes. That's especially helpful because a lot of out-of-town drivers cruise through the area. "You will not be able to miss the overhead signs," says Whitfield, adding, "They have been proven to be more safe."
Plans to install the overhead signs came out of a safety study conducted by the borough's Transportation Commission. That was followed up by a decision to also install a whole new signal system, including new support poles and the improved lighting.
That's all easier said then done. New PennDot regulations require significant upgrades. New replacement poles have to be made out of galvanized steel. Deeper foundations and additional bolts are needed to secure those larger, heavier steel supports.
PennDot Spokesperson Marla Fannin says, depending on the size of those mast arms and soil conditions, concrete foundations sometimes need to be dug up to 12 feet deep. Those foundations only had to be six feet deep under the old rules.
The foundations were installed last summer, but that was no easy task. "Installation of the new foundations needed to be done in such a manner that the existing signal remained," says Whitfield.
The project on North Atherton Street was put in motion last June but it's taken some extra time to complete. One of the biggest holdups has been getting steel poles from the manufacturer. "There is a six to eight month lead time for steel poles right now," says Whitfield. We are still waiting for the new poles [for the two intersections on South Pugh Street]."
Still to come at Atherton/Hillcrest intersection is additional work to comply with the American's with Disabilities Act. Old walkways will be replaced with sloped sidewalks.
Whitfield acknowledges it's been a lengthy process, but adds, "In the end, the intersection should be much safer once complete which should be within the next 3 weeks, weather permitting."
Fannin says The Atherton/Hillcrest intersection is the first in our area to include "new retro-reflective back plates." That means the backing around the traffic lights are reflective so they're more visible. "This is similar to the strip of tape used on the back of school buses and serves the same purpose," she says, "to give greater emphasis of what's in front you."
The upgrades don't come cheap. Whitfield says it costs between $250,000 and $300,000 to retrofit each intersection.
The next intersection slated to get new traffic light support masts will be the one at at Burrowes Street and West College Avenue.
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