BROOKVILLE — During Phase I of the Interstate 80 construction project near Brookville, there have been about 60 accidents between April 1 and June 30, according to Jefferson County Department of Emergency Services Director Tracy Zents.

He was giving the Jefferson County Commissioners an update on the situation during last week’s commissioners meeting. Zents noted that the recent construction project posed a lot of challenges to first responders as well as to the community in general. He noted that last year during the same timeframe, there were only 23 accidents on I-80. He said the accidents have caused traffic gridlocks for Brookville and Brockway areas as well as coming through Hazen on Route 28 and generated a lot of additional 911 calls. Each accident has resulted in an average of 50-60 911 calls, which increases the load on the 911 center.

“We had tractor trailers that were creating some traffic hazards themselves by doing rolling road blocks coming into it (the construction zone) that made the traffic queue longer, stretching that out into not only Corsica but into Clarion County. There were just a lot of different things, a lot of accidents and the backlog. We had trucks – commercial vehicles – that ran out of time. They would stop in the middle of the road. They wouldn’t move. So it was a big challenge,” Zents said.

But good has come from it, he told the commissioners. “It brought all the stakeholders together – to include the state police, PennDOT, the contractors, our department, the first responders and some community members – on how we can correct this for the second phase that is going to be coming up starting July 21,” he said. “We’re looking at working with PSP, PennDOT and the contractor where they are going to put additional signage out.” The plan also includes using a CB wizard to automatically send a pre-recorded message to all of the truck traffic to stay in the right lane and not create the block in the traffic.

“One of the other things we had indicated was if you come down to the Northfork bridge off the turn to the Richardsville overpass, when you get to the overpass is when you see the stopped traffic. And that’s where one of the hot spots were for the different accidents. So coming into the construction they had it over 60 mph, so they are going to reduce that speed ahead of time to come down through there.” There will also be additional signage and state police up there actually monitoring traffic and sitting at the backlog of traffic. Zents noted that it is hoped “we can reduce that number of accidents and we don’t have the gridlock in the communities and things will run along smoother than before.

“It definitely was noticed because of all the accidents,” Zents said, adding that he’s “pretty optimistic” that the stakeholders are going to continue the discussions prior to the start of any construction and throughout the course of the project.

Next year, there is planned construction on Interstate 80 from the Brookville area west to the Clarion County line. Zents said, “So we’re going to have a good instant management plan with them on that section when they get ready to do that.”

Jefferson County Commissioner Jack Matson questioned whether PennDOT was going to change the area where the traffic goes into one lane after coming down the hill and onto the Northfork Bridge on I-80.

Zents said PennDOT would have to do a traffic study because it’s a federal highway before they could lower the speed even further than 60 mph.

“One of the things we’ve said for many, many years is that 70 mph traffic coming down into the Northfork Bridge area, around that turn, is way too fast. In our opinion, we don’t feel the road was designed for that speed of traffic coming in there, plus the volume of traffic compared to what it was when it was first built back in the late 50s, early 60s. We’re going to continue that push to try to get those speeds lowered. So far we haven’t been successful but we aren’t going to give up on that,” Zents said.

Matson asked about moving the merge point away from the base of the hill onto the bridge, noting that traffic would have some momentum behind it by the time it reached the merge point.

Zents said while the thought is that the merge point is too close to the construction project it is set where the design showed it. “They are looking to extend that back further so that the line of sight is better, so people can see that (merge point).”

Zents said moving the merge point would help as would stopping the commercial vehicles from doing rolling roadblocks. He noted they want both lanes of vehicles to come up to the merge point and then take turns going into the construction zone. “It works very well in other areas. Clarion County just went through a construction project as well. They didn’t have nearly the issues that we had with this one here,” Zents said.

Penn State Cooperative Extension

Penn State Cooperative Extension Client Relationship Manager Robert Dickinson introduced Cheri Micale at last week’s commissioners meeting. Micale is the new Area 2 Business Operations manager. Dickinson also noted new hire Andew Faust as the Master Gardener Area coordinator who will cover 17 counties. Dickinson noted “our local Master Gardener Coordinator Cheryl Shenkle will answer to that gentleman, and it’s a little better control and she has somebody to talk to.”

Also attending with Dickinson and Micale was Amanda Kanouff. She told the commissioners she’d like to develop some geocaching sites across the county as an outreach for 4-H and for the Extension office. She is open to any feedback or suggestions, she said, adding that she’d really like to give some history of the county with the geocaching.

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Tax forgiveness

Also speaking at the meeting was Karen McKillip, treasurer of the Munderf Methodist Church. She requested that the county spring taxes be forgiven. The church had received a tax bill because of an error in the address.

The church erected a new fellowship hall last year and the address was listed as Brockway, not Brookville. So the church never received the assessment form to fill out to be exonerated from the property taxes, she said, adding that the address has been corrected since.

She noted that the chuch has a very small congregation, with a membership average of 44 people, although it is blessed with a lot of children. “We’d be very thankful if we could have them forgiven for this year.”

Matson noted that the commissioners are aware of the situation and are working on it.

Meetings

The Jefferson County Commissioners will next meet at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 23, at Jefferson Place.

Also meeting on July 23 at Jefferson Place will be the Jefferson County Jail Board at 12 p.m.

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