Muhlenberg details plans for intersection improvements

MUHLENBERG TWP., Pa. - Big plans are in the works for Fifth Street Highway in Muhlenberg Township.

"We want to provide what's best for everyone, provide more growth, economic development, as well as transportation safety," said Pamela Stevens, senior engineer at Systems Design Engineering, the lead engineer on the grant application.

Stevens presented plans for improvements during the commissioner's meeting Tuesday evening. 

The proposed improvements at Bellevue, Elizabeth, and Euclid avenues, and Muhlenberg and Madeira Plazas, would include delineated crosswalks, flashing crosswalk signals, audible pedestrian countdowns, bus stop relocations, and improved street and crosswalk lighting. 

"This will hopefully significantly improve pedestrian safety in that area," Stevens said.

Specifically, the Euclid Avenue walk would cross the highway to the driveway at Klein’s Motel and would have flashing signals activated by the pedestrian pushing the button.

A 14-year-old pedestrian was killed at the intersection in April 2015, according to police.

The Bellevue Avenue intersection to Madeira Plaza, deemed by Stevens as "The Gateway," will also see big changes.

Bruce Fies knows the Bellevue intersection well. He doesn't even push the crosswalk button anymore because it doesn't give him enough time.

"They don't give me any chance, so I go ahead of them," Fies said of the passing cars.

He's not convinced improvements will change his situation.

"I'm only 94 years old, and if they want to take me now, that's alright," Fies said. 

The intersection, however, would have extended crosswalks, the flashing signals and audible countdowns, and a relocated bus shelter to the grass strip in front of the CVS Pharmacy. Stevens said the turning lane traffic would have more of a delay to accommodate for safe pedestrian crossing.

The Elizabeth Avenue crosswalk would run parallel to the highway instead of crossing it and will not have a signal. Sidewalks surrounding the crosswalks will be reconfigured to accommodate for grass and improved bus shelter accessibility.

Stevens and Jamal Abadalo, the township manager, said the project will be similar to the current crosswalk systems at Aldi and Burger King on Fifth Street and made of the same thermoplastic material, which Stevens said provides a smooth, but textured finish. Benches and trash receptacles are also part of the project.

"This is the kind of product we want because it's going to last and it's going to be a significant improvement for the corridor," said Stevens. 

"You can see how the crosswalks stand out, the new sidewalks, so we can put landscaping and soften the whole commercialism of it. We're just trying to encourage walkability, shopping, getting a snack, and sitting in a beautified corridor," she added.

Tony Lupia, a township resident and school board member, asked why these specific intersections were chosen to be revitalized and not some other corridor trouble spots, specifically at the George Street intersection, nearest to the Fairgrounds Square Mall, which has had past pedestrian fatalities.

"If we had gotten money for everything, we would have included all the other intersections from Jack O'Reilly (Tuxedoes) to Walmart. We've focused on the busiest commercial section and we know the mall management is trying to do something. We want to see what they are going to offer, then we will be able to improve the other intersections," said Abadalo.

"We thought we would see what the developer provides before we take action. It's not just crossing. It's encouraging pedestrians to walk from one side of the mall to the mall," he added.

The project, a condensed version of a 2013 revitalization study, will not cost taxpayers any money and will be funded by a $750,000 Commonwealth Financing Authority grant. The township originally applied for $2.5 million and wanted to revitalize most of the Fifth Street corridor, but was only awarded $750,000. 

"The money has to be used a certain way and we're very happy we get to put it into a major artery of our community and this can only help. Your money is being allocated where it has to be allocated and this is coming from the state," said Michael Malinowski, the commission's president.

The township unanimously voted at Tuesday's meeting to revise the CFA grant application to include the modifications presented. Work can begin once the grant revision is approved.

"We're in the planning and preliminary design stage. It will go into plans, which the plans will have all the information. It will then go into bidding, and then into the construction," Stevens said.

Stevens expects to move into bidding and construction in 2018. 

She hopes the changes will create a safer and more inviting atmosphere.

"It says 'come visit' that's how we're looking at it," Stevens said.

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