North Atherton Street has been a three-year headache for drivers in Centre County, but a necessary one said Tom Zilla, principal transportation planner for Centre Region Planning Agency.
The large drainage pipe underneath Atherton Street was in such a bad state of deterioration, Zilla said, that it was causing the pavement to crumble above. He could remember three instances where a hole opened up on the road due to a collapsing drainage pipe.
“We can’t have cars driving into a hole in the pavement, or buses or trucks,” said Zilla.
The whole undertaking is a “big project,” Zilla said, involving replacing utility lines, storm drains and sewer and waterlines. And while the current phase of the project along North Atherton is getting closer to being completed, drivers can expect more headaches in the coming years as the four-phase project has two more phases to go, leading all the way out to near Meyer Dairy along South Atherton Street.
The first two sections of the project that extended from Patton Township to Park Avenue along North Atherton started in 2017. That year, crews replaced much of the major infrastructure underneath the road, including communication lines, water lines and sewer lines.
Zilla said since the project involved going underground to replace the drainage pipe, it was best to replace and update the entire infrastructure system underneath the road.
Crews have also been updating the storm drains on the side of the road that became inefficient, causing flooding on the right side of the roadway during heavy rain.
Last construction season crews worked on replacing the drainage line, and the plan was to finish this section of the project this year by completing the utility replacements and repaving the rest of the road. But that timeline is now likely to extend into next year. PennDOT is working on extending phase two of the project 300 feet to Curtin Road, at the request of State College Borough and Penn State.
Doing so will take the major intersection of Park Avenue and Atherton Street out of phase three of the project and eliminate the need for another temporary signal and pedestrian crossing at Park Ave. The extension will move completion of the current phase to June 2020.
The work in the extended area will include installation of steel casings for future use as a utility crossing by the university, as well as roadway rehabilitation and drainage improvements. At its July 1 meeting, borough council approved a noise ordinance waiver to allow 24-hour work from May 15-18, 2020 for the pipe installation. A detour will be in place during that time. According to PennDOT without 24-hour schedule and a detour, the work would take four weeks to accomplish with lane closures.
Zilla said that phase three of the project does not have finalized funding yet, but he said that it looks to be started in late 2020 or early 2021.
That phase would extend to Westerly Parkway. Phase four would continue from Westerly Parkway toward Meyer Dairy.
Phases three and four would be the same type of long-term projects. Zilla said they are also “big projects,” much more intense than repaving a road, leading to longer construction times and therefore, more delays for commuters.
StateCollege.com's Geoff Rushton contributed to this article.