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Next Phase of Atherton Street Project Expected to Begin in 2022

Motorists will have another year before they encounter substantial planned road work along Atherton Street in State College.

PennDOT representatives told the borough’s Transportation Commission last week that the next phase of improvements are expected to begin in spring 2022 and be completed in the fall of 2023. The project is expected to be put out for bids in February.

Work will extend from the Curtin Road intersection on North Atherton Street to just past the Westerly Parkway intersection on South Atherton Street. The project will involve utility replacement and relocation; roadway, drainage, pedestrian and traffic signal improvements; and streetscape additions along a portion of the work area.

PennDOT wrapped up a similar, three-year project on North Atherton Street between Aaron Drive and Curtin Road last summer.

Lou Spaciano, project manager for the design team from Borton-Lawson Engineering, said the first year of the next phase will primarily involve utility work, including replacing a water main between West College Avenue and Westerly Parkway, replacing a sanitary sewer line in about the same area, and relocating gas lines at two locations.

During that work, short-term traffic control operations will be in place during daytime hours, with the road open for normal traffic patterns at night.

The second season of work in 2023 will involve the roadway, drainage, traffic signal and pedestrian improvements. The project area will be divided into four work zones, with long-term lane shifts in place while work is underway in each zone.

Spaciano said the specific schedule will be fine-tuned before the project goes out for bid.

“What we’re trying to do now is take into [consideration] the Penn State schedule, so when are students on campus, when are they on break, combine that with out durations, how long we think it’s going to take,” he said.

The road and drainage work will address the long-time issue of flooding during heavy rain in the area of Railroad Avenue and the bus terminal.

“We’re looking improve that condition as best we can within the drainage network within the PennDOT system,” Spaciano said. “We’re looking at getting the runoff off the road quicker into the inlets and storm sewer system.”

Work will include replacing deteriorated drainage pipes and inlets, removing bumpout inlets and blind connections, adding new inlets, 1.5 gutter widths along the curbline and installing a flow bypass system near the bus terminal.

The bypass system will take some of the water from a “low spot” in the road to an additional system on College Avenue, Spaciano said.

“Eighty-eight percent of off-area runoff hits that [low spot] and the system becomes inundated,” Spaciano said. “It won’t eliminate the problem but it will help reduce the frequency.”

Throughout the project area, lanes will be configured to have a minimum 10-foot width to meet current state and federal requirements. Sidewalks will maintain a minimum width of 5 feet.

Roadway improvements will mostly involve milling and paving, except for two areas where full-depth pavement replacement is needed. Cross slope corrections will “remove any very flat sections,” to help get water off the road and into the drainage system.

The Westerly Parkway intersection will have a complete traffic signal replacement and at five other intersections mast arms will be replaced. Radar presence detection will be added at West Beaver Avenue and Westerly Parkway.

ADA-compliant pedestrian push buttons will be installed at signalized crossings. At four pedestrian crossings between West Beaver Avenue, rectangular flashing beacon signage will be installed. A preformed thermoplastic crosswalk with a brick-colored walkway and white edges will be set into the road to provide contrast from the black pavement.

Work also will incorporate the borough’s streetscape project between West Beaver Avenue and Railroad Avenue. State College received a $935,000 state grant in 2018 for the project, which is designed for pedestrian safety and traffic calming.

It will include new sidewalk, pavers, decorative lighting, benches and garbage receptacles, as well as pedestrian fencing between West College and West Beaver avenues.

Transportation Commission member Susan Venegoni asked PennDOT to consider a traffic island or other measure at the West Fairmount Avenue intersection to force vehicles to obey the right-turn only restriction. While signage prohibits left turns onto South Atherton Street from both sides of the intersection, Venegoni said the restriction is often ignored.

Spaciano said PennDOT would have to work with the borough on the possibility. PennDOT District 2 Engineer Eric Murnyack said he did not think anyone had made that request before.

Project designers and PennDOT also are coordinating with Alpha Fire Company. Spaciano said the preliminary plan is for Alpha to park its vehicles behind the South Atherton Street station or on the road when work is taking place in front of the station. He added that during the last phase PennDOT kept Alpha informed on a daily basis about where contractors would be working.

Final plans are expected to be presented to State College Borough Council in the summer.

“It’s a huge project,” Transportation Commission Chair Hugh Mose said. “It’s going to be a lot of disruption over a loing period of time, but I’m confident that the end result will be something that’s better for the motorists, pedestrians and the entire community.”