by Jonathan Weaver
A majority of Kittanning Borough Council members voted last night to continue the traffic realignment along South Water Street rather than revert to the old traffic patterns as was decided three weeks ago.
During a special meeting last month, council members voted 6-1 to eliminate the center turning lane and parking spaces along Kittanning Riverfront Park and keep the roadway four lanes.
Councilwoman Joie Pryde voted against the motion July 14 and opened discussion on the matter again last night, asking if the change was permanent.
“Immediately after the meeting, I had some other Council members say ‘Boy, I’m not sure I did what I thought I really wanted to do,” Pryde said.
Community Division Director Jennifer Bellas said PennDOT officials were notified of Council’s decision immediately after the special meeting through Armstrong County Planning and Development Assistant Director Carmen Johnson and wasn’t sure if another change was possible.
“Once (Johnson) told (PennDOT) to go ahead, that’s what they did to move forward. I don’t know if it’s enough time to switch it back,” Bellas said. “I don’t know.”
Council Vice-President Kim Fox – who led the meeting due to President Andy Peters’ absence – identified herself as one of those council members that rethought their vote.
Fox said she was concerned if the new flow of traffic would go as predicted.
Like Johnson did a month before, Bellas recommended Council members ‘look at the big picture.’
Bellas said there are more changes being implemented slowly based on the 2013 traffic study recommendations, such as the two-way traffic on McKean Street and proposed lane changes coming from the Kittanning Citizens Bridge.
“We did hold the meetings, we did have a survey, we had an online survey, we did a paper survey, we had public meetings – we had discussion. And based on the discussion and the information that was turned in when we did the transportation study, that was one of the recommended changes, Bellas said.
“The whole purpose was to provide access to the park and to provide the better flow through town. The whole goal of the transportation study was to keep traffic moving and through town – that’s why we did it.”
Councilman Ange Turco stood firm in-favor of reverting to old traffic patterns. He said he heard concerns from potential motorists parking in the new parking spots.
“I’ll tell you my wishes: change it back to what it was,” Turco said.
Councilman David Croyle also didn’t change his vote.
Croyle agreed with an email from concerned local employee Dawn Kitko – who said she witnessed near-accidents for an entire week due to drivers spending too much time in the middle turning lane before turning or parking within the solid while lines – as well as other people who have contacted him against the new realignment.
“The aforementioned lane realignment issues have grown out of control in a very short amount of time,” Kitko wrote.
“It’s not just a matter of it being a change – the change isn’t working,” Croyle concluded.
Croyle, who said he has also almost been involved in a car accident because of trying to turn from South Water Street, predicted the issue will only become worse once school is in session.
“It’s just going to be a mess – like it is now,” Croyle said.
Pryde stood behind the opinion of PennDOT District 10 Traffic Engineer Dave Thomaswick – who felt the confusion is only temporary and will eventually be eliminated.
“I’m not an engineer – I have to go by people who are trained to do the work,” Pryde said.
Police Chief Bruce Mathews confirmed the width and turning concerns, but said the ‘big picture’ – including future realignments on the Kittanning Citizens Bridge to make opposing traffic travel at the same time – is becoming clear.
“Once everything comes into play, the time cycles are going to be faster – we’re still going to have some confusion with that center turning lane,” Chief Mathews said. “That can’t be used as through traffic – somebody’s going to be seriously hurt there – that’s a turn-only lane, and it’s not being used that way.
“But, as with any change, it’s going to take time.”
Council members voted 5-2 to keep the new traffic changes – with Turco and Croyle opposed. Following the meeting, Croyle said he was “very disappointed” with the majority’s decision and felt it was “a slap in the face” to those motorists concerned.
Bellas hopes for the ‘big picture’ to be incorporated during Phase III construction of the Downtown Kittanning Revitalization Project.