Thursday, February 18, 2016

Big doings in (and near) little Nanticoke

From 1992 through 2012, with an interruption in 2007 and another in 2010, I commuted some thirty-five miles to work from Nanticoke to Olyphant, PA via Interstate 81.  The commute took anywhere from forty minutes to infinity, depending on traffic, construction, and accidents. It is entirely possible that I am still stuck in one or more traffic jams on 81 right now, and my whole life since then has been nothing more than a dream fueled by exhaust fumes.

BE PREPARED TO STOP. Also, there's a tractor-trailer on fire up ahead. Have a nice day!
Since early 2012 my commute has been much shorter - five miles, requiring about ten minutes of travel time. Unlike my previous commute, this one has several alternate routes, all of varying distance but all essentially the same travel time. If there's an accident or construction or a random bike race or some other impediment on one of them, I can quickly and easily switch to an alternate route and still make it to work on time.

All that is about to end.

Times Leader: Work begins on long-awaited roundabouts in Nanticoke (January 31, 2016)

One of the most controversial recent road projects in northeastern Pennsylvania has been the revamping of the exit for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport (AVP, in travel professional lingo) to and from I-81. The exit was workable as it was, if a bit awkward; people trying to get to some locations off the exit would have to make a U-turn at or near the airport. Someone had the bright idea to install a roundabout, or traffic circle, at the exit, so people getting on and off of 81 could have smooth access to all of the places that you can get to from the exit, and could easily access 81 north and south from those places. Yeah. That didn't work out. Whether from disastrously poor planning that made the roundabout too tight and narrow to be useful to the tractor-trailers that sometimes need to take that exit, or from the general absence of signs letting drivers know which way to go to get where they want to go (instead, the signs seem to wordlessly indicate "cyclopses this way, aliens that way"), or perhaps the general lack of usefulness of a roundabout in this situation, the project has been a disaster from the moment it was opened to the public.

The new project is about to place six roundabouts between me and where I work.

Nanticoke (left) and Hanover Industrial Park (right). All maps from Google Maps.
Nanticoke is a small, densely-packed city bordered by fairly heavily forested lands that comprise various townships. The biggest and most relevant in this situation is Hanover Township, which covers most of the area to the south and east of Nanticoke up to Wilkes-Barre. Nanticoke is a "bedroom community": people live there and sleep there but generally do not work there, owing to the general lack of industry within the city limits. There used to be businesses, a cigar factory and a throwing mill and a few others, but most of them moved away in the 1950's. Now most residents have to commute to work, whether thirty-five miles or just five miles.

I live near the place marked "Greater Nanticoke High School" on the center left of the map above. I work in the industrial park on the center right of the image. There are several ways I can get to work. The orange line representing Route 29 looks like it would be the most convenient, but it isn't, due to relatively heavy traffic on it and a fairly complex off-ramp interface. My preferred route involves taking the road marked 2010 on the map, a lightly-traveled two-lane road that runs right into the industrial park. On the return commute I prefer to take Dundee Crossing Road, which is on the center of the map above and runs from South Main Street (Middle Road) to the Sans Souci Parkway. This isn't the shortest or most convenient road, but it is the prettiest, and one that has fond memories for me. The trees along that road form arches over it, creating a forested tunnel of sorts. Late afternoon sunlight in the Summer and Fall creates beautiful effects. The road passes under an old, disused bridge not far from Middle Road and through a tunnel near the Sans Souci Parkway. My grandfather used to take us for rides in his blue Dodge Dart along that road, and would always beep the horn as we passed through the tunnel - something I still do once in a while.

Nanticoke is fairly tightly-packed. Its boundaries enclose a lot of houses, some schools, Luzerne County Community College, a supermarket and some shops, some river flood plain, and a historical relic called Concrete City. It had an industrial park put in once upon a time, but no industry actually moved into it, and it now is simply a long access road that leads to some houses that are technically outside of the city limits. But the map above shows several spots just to the east of the city that have been stripped of trees. These look to be new industrial parks being planned in Hanover Township. But what sort of industry will they bring? More warehouse and call center jobs paying $10 - $12 an hour?

Map showing Nanticoke city boundaries and surrounding area
In any event these industrial parks and the jobs they bring will lie outside of Nanticoke's city limits, and therefore will provide no tax revenue to the city itself. Yet they will cause significant problems for the people of Nanticoke, at least over the next three years.

Three turning circles will be added at the intersections of Middle Road and Prospect, Espy, and Kosciuszko Streets
Three of the six turning circles coming to the area will be along the road in the lower left of this photo. The area enclosed in the square-ish region is Luzerne County Community College, bordered by Kosciuszko Street on the east, Prospect Street on the west, Middle Road on the south, and - well, on the north it's bordered by a gully, but for neatness' sake let's say Field Street on the north. Turning circles will be placed at the intersections of Middle Road with Prospect Street, Espy Street (at the middle bottom of the above image, heading south off the bottom of the picture), and Kosciuszko Street. In addition there will likely be an entrance to the new access road - essentially a bypass from Route 29 to Kosciuszko Street that will relieve traffic from the heavily-populated Middle Road - at the left of center of the image above. (A road has already been cleared there, and heads into some of the cleared areas on the upper right of the image.) Three turning circles in such a small area - there will barely be a quarter-mile between each one - seems excessive.

An additional three turning circles will be added, one near Dundee Crossing Road (right of center of map), another where Route 29 intersects Middle Road / South Main Street (Wilkes-Barre), and a third midway between (just to the left of the lime green square)
Three more turning circles will be added outside of the Nanticoke city limits. One will be near Dundee Crossing Road, right of center in the image above. Another will be near where Route 29 intersects Middle Road / South Main Street. A third will apparently service the as-yet-unconstructed industrial park, and will be somewhere to the left of the lime-green square on the center-right of the image above.

Now the bad news: the road closings.

• Dundee Road closed from May 2016 to May 2019 (Reopened November 11, 2017)
• Espy Street closed from April to August 2016 (reopened December 2, 2016)

UPDATE, March 30, 2017: 
• Middle Road, from Kosciuszko Street to Dundee Road will be closed to all traffic, beginning on Monday, April 3rd. This closure and related detours will be in place until November 2017
• Kosciuszko Street will be closed July 6, 2017 and be reopened in November 2017.
(As of January 20, 2018, Kosciuszko Street is still closed at Middle Road, and Middle Road is closed from Birchwood - accessible only from Middle Road coming east from Espy Street - to Spencer Lane / Great Valley Boulevard.)
• Prospect Street will be closed in the summer of 2018 and reopen in November 2018.
Prospect Street closed from March to October 2017
• Middle Road west of Koscuizsko Street closed September 2017 to August 2019
Koscuizsko Street closed from March to June 2019
• Middle Road at exit 2 over state Route 29, closed August to October 2019
I'm not sure how extensive these closing will be. I doubt "Kosciuszko Street closed September 2017 to August 2019" means that residents of Kosciuszko Street will have to park their cars blocks away and walk home. More likely it means "intersection of Kosciuszko Street and Middle Road, no traffic allowed past..." - well, where? There's a new housing development right near that intersection. Will the residents be able to get to their houses? Will there be access to LCCC from the Kosciuszko Street entrance? Will students at the high school and elementary schools on Kosciuszko Street still be able to get to school? Probably. But I don't want to presume too much about what this project might bring.

Dundee Crossing Road, closed May 2016 through May 2019

The biggest loss for me will be the closure of Dundee Crossing Road for three years, from May 2016 to May 2019. I will miss that road. I drove on it very little until I started at this job, and then took it initially for the sense of nostalgia. I have become fond of it, and enjoy the ride. I don't know what the next three years will bring, and I don't know if I'll have any need of this particular road when it re-opens in May 2019. (Reopened on or before November 11, 2017; see update below.)

All this is just at the initial stages. Some construction has taken place already, taking advantage of the unusually warm Winter we've enjoyed until recently. But projects like this can easily take much longer than the original timeline indicates. As with many things, we'll have to wait and see how things work out.

UPDATE, February 26, 2016: Dundee Road is now closed. More than two months ahead of schedule.

UPDATE, March 9, 2016: The Larmel Inn at the corner of Espy Street and Middle Road has been torn down.

UPDATE, March 29, 2016: There is a detour in place for Espy Street, which is now closed to through traffic.

UPDATE, April 1, 2016: Middle Road will be closed at Espy Street starting April 4. This closure is scheduled to last through September.

UPDATE, December 8, 2016: The roundabout on Middle Road and Espy Street opened on December 2, 2016. (The original schedule stated it would be closed through August 2016. A later schedule put it at October 2016.) Next phase of construction on Middle Road should begin in March 2017 when the Prospect Street project begins.

UPDATE, March 30, 2017: Kosciuszko Street detour is in place. Revised schedule per this article:

• Middle Road will be closed and a detour will be in place beginning April 3. The road will reopen in November.
• Kosciuszko Street will be closed July 6 and be reopened in November.
• Prospect Street will be closed in the summer of 2018 and reopen in November 2018.

From the article:
Utility work on Kosciuszko Street will slow traffic this week, and Luzerne County Community College posted on Facebook that Middle Road will be closed to traffic due to construction of a roundabout. 
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation notified the college that Middle Road will be closed from Kosciuszko Street to the Lower Askam section of Hanover Township as early as April 3, according to the post.
From LCCC's Facebook page:
Please be advised that Middle Road, from Kosciuszko Street to Dundee Road will be closed to all traffic, beginning on Monday, April 3rd. This closure and related detours will be in place until November of 2017 as part of the construction of the new South Valley Parkway.
UPDATE, July 11, 2017:  Kosciuszko Street is now closed at Middle Road. It is open to the Grateful Roast coffee shop, but there is no access to Birchwood from Kosciuszko Street. Birchwood can be accessed via Middle Road through Prospect Street, though the main entrance to the parking lot is closed and access is now through a temporary paved entrance. Closure is scheduled through November 2017, when the new roundabout (the second of five - or is it six?) will be opened. LCCC has signs at both the Kosciuszko Street and Prospect Street entrances advising that there is NO THRU TRAFFIC through their parking lot.

UPDATE, November 11, 2017: Dundee Road is open again. There have been changes. There are a lot fewer trees than there used to be, there are now two overpasses where there was once one, and one old disused railroad bridge has been removed. I'm glad I got some photos when I did.
This old bridge, shown in a photograph from October 20, 2016, is now gone. Glad I got some photos of it when I did. A lot of the trees around it seem to be gone, too, but these will regrow in time.

UPDATE, January 20, 2018: From the Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice: Section of South Valley Parkway will open Monday

Part of the South Valley Parkway in Hanover Twp. will open at 11 a.m. Monday (January 22, 2018.) 
The section to open occupies a stretch of land northwest of the South Cross Valley Expressway/state Route 29. 
It runs from a connection off of South Main Street near Exit 2 of the expressway to a newly constructed roundabout west of there. Two ramps near that roundabout connect to the South Cross Valley Expressway between exits 2 and 3. 
Further west of that roundabout, one lane of traffic will be open on a bridge over the expressway and Dundee Road, leading to another roundabout. 
The planned roadway continues to Middle Road and Kosciuszko Street in Nanticoke, but that section remains under construction. It is scheduled to open sometime in 2019, spokesman Mike Taluto said.
Update, February 14, 2018: The Kosciuszko Street turning circle is partially open, allowing access to Birchwood Nursing Home and Middle Road west to Espy Street and beyond. Middle Road east is still inaccessible. However, signs still indicate that the road is closed, detours are still in place, and signs from Espy Street indicate "LOCAL TRAFFIC ONLY."

(Note: Eventually this was changed to "ROAD CLOSED," as the road was reduced to a dirt road and then repaved.)

Update, April 29, 2018: Kosciuszko Street Turning Circle opens to Espy Street and up to Prospect Street May 1; Prospect Street Turning Circle construction to begin. 
From the Nanticoke City Fire Department:
As per Kriger Construction, May 1st is the date set for the opening of the Kosciuszko St. Roundabout to have access to Espy St. into the Hanover section of the City and local traffic to homes located between Espy St. & Prospect St. With this opening, the intersection of Prospect St & Middle Rd. will be CLOSED to all traffic as construction will begin on the new roundabout.

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