CRANBERRY TWP — PennDOT's plans for Franklin Road, posted online Monday, include the ambitious goal of straightening certain hills and curves along a 1.5-mile stretch of the state road in the township.
The state transportation department further plans to widen shoulders, add turn lanes at non-signalized intersections and improve sightlines by clearing out brush, while also wholly repaving Franklin Road between Route 228 and Peters Road. Construction is expected to begin in 2022.
“It's a pretty nice project we have here. We've gotten a few phone calls already from the public,” PennDOT District 10 project manager David Layman said, adding the feedback has been “pretty positive.”
Cranberry Township manager Dan Santoro said PennDOT initiated the project, but has made an effort to keep the township in the loop. He added the improvements seem to be “very good improvements.”
One focus of the project will be to make “horizontal and vertical geometry improvements.” In Layman's terms, that means making hills more gradual and straightening out curves.
“You're up and down, you're left and right, and we found a few of those areas in the corridor where we can make an improvement to those curves — flattening them out, making some sightline improvements,” Layman said.
Along Franklin Road, there are a few sharp bends, some south of Peters Road. In that segment, Layman said, PennDOT is concerned about the curve between Hazelwood Drive to the south and Beacon Hill Drive on the north. That's an area where, while the curve isn't as sharp as the road becomes in the northern parts of Cranberry and southern Jackson Township, the height changes add to the difficulty of navigating the bend.
“That's the main one where folks who travel this area will see the biggest improvement, and that's both a horizontal and vertical improvement,” Layman said. “We're correcting both the issues vertically and horizontally.”
Another area PennDOT is hoping to straighten out is the section of Franklin just south of the junction with Peters Road. Currently, motorists traveling east on Peters have to navigate a roughly 60-degree curve to turn south on Franklin, while at the same time driving uphill. Layman said drivers will see some improvement there.
Another PennDOT goal is to widen the shoulders along the road to 5 feet wide.
“It allows possible pedestrians and bicyclists to use the roadway in a much safer way than how it's being used right now,” Layman said. “There's some areas that have only 1- to 2-foot shoulders and, being in Cranberry Township with lots of development, we felt the need to widen to 5-foot shoulders.”
While some roads do have 8- to 10-foot shoulders, that was not possible along Franklin, Layman said, because it would have “extensive” impacts on rights-of-way and would be “a little bit overkill.”
The lanes will be 11 feet wide, a standard lane width for the 35 mph speed limit, according to Layman. Maintaining this width will require the widening of the road as a whole in spots, because PennDOT plans to add left-turn lanes where there are intersections without a traffic light.
“There was a very expensive field study done, and traffic analysis completed, reviewed and improved that warrants all those left turn lanes,” Layman said. “That's not just something we came up with; that's an engineering traffic analysis that warrants left-turn lanes.”
Santoro said the turn lanes are another important addition to Franklin.
“Providing turn lanes at each of those existing streets, that improves capacity and safety for when people are stopped to make a left into their (residential) plan,” he said.
Drainage facilities will also be installed or upgraded, Layman said, such as underground drainage pipes. PennDOT will also try improving the sightlines at intersections by clearing trees and brush from the area surrounding those junctions.
“Some residents along the corridor will have better sightlines when they pull out of their driveway,” Layman added.
Little traffic disruption
The state transit department is making these updates because of how heavily trafficked Franklin is. For the same reason, PennDOT will ensure the road is open during most of the construction.
“One thing we're trying to get out there is that, during peak hours, Franklin Road will be open in both directions,” Layman said.
At nonpeak times, flaggers will be present as Franklin will become a single-lane road so crews can complete their work.
At some points, such as when PennDOT will correct the deficient curves, detours will be required. It will also be necessary to close Mars Road when work is done near there, according to PennDOT, but that should not impair the ability of residents to access their property.
The total project cost comes in at around $6.5 million, according to Layman. About one-third of that is projected to be spent keeping the road open.
“That might be around $2 million just to keep traffic open, versus totally closing the road for a year or two,” he said. “The project would be a little cheaper, but that's not a good road to close.”
Santoro said he is glad these improvements are being made, and looks forward to more improvements along the Franklin Road corridor.
“That first segment of Franklin that is between Route 228 and Old Mars Road, we do think that that segment needs more capacity, especially in that segment where you can go in and out of the mall there,” he said. “We think that needs widened even more, ultimately, with some realignment, but that will potentially happen with future development along that commercial section of Franklin.”