HAZLE TWP. – A few dozen businesspeople, residents and officials got an update this week on a long-awaited $10 million road-widening project that finally has begun after nearly a decade of increasing traffic congestion.
The widening of Airport Road, commonly called the Airport Beltway, recently got under way and is expected to be complete by fall 2014, Mike Bernetski, project manager for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, said at a meeting hosted by the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.
The project includes:
• Installing a center turning lane through the 1.5-mile stretch between the Laurel Mall and Hess Road, which leads from the beltway to the Hazleton Municipal Airport.
• Upgrading existing traffic signals on the beltway.
• Installing traffic signals at a newly constructed intersection at the east entrance to Walmart and Hollywood Boulevard.
• Installing traffic signals at the intersection with Old Airport Road – a site of many accidents.
Lonnie Polli, vice chairwoman of the chamber's Transportation Committee, said the chamber has received numerous complaints about that intersection because vehicles traveling west from state Route 309 line up there, waiting for breaks in opposing traffic, to turn left onto Old Airport Road. Impatient drivers often pass them on the right berm.
Tom Lagana, branch manager for Janney Montgomery Scott, which is located at the intersection, said he's pleased with the announced improvements but concerned that drivers traveling east and turning into All-Phase Electric just past the intersection could run head-on in the turning lane with drivers traveling west to turn onto Old Airport Road.
A traffic signal is expected to be installed there by the end of this summer, Bernetski said.
Ammee Reusing, general manager of the Laurel Mall, and Kim Gormley, manager of Boscov's at the mall, are anxious to see the results of the project. They said customers complain about beltway congestion and the construction and bumpy roads of the Broad Street widening project.
Addressing questions from township Fire Chief Scott Kostician, Bernetski said he expects more fire hydrants will be installed along the beltway and that traffic signals will be equipped to receive signals from emergency vehicles to give them green lights.
Chamber President Donna Palermo said the expansion was downsized from a five-lane road to a three-lane road a few years ago because of state funding cuts.
Palermo hopes funding for road expansion projects is increased, because some Hazleton area roads, such as state Route 924, are too congested to accommodate significant increases in traffic, which means they can't accommodate new businesses that would want to locate nearby.