KITTANNING – As 2020 has ended, Armstrong County planners are taking stock of the year that was. From the infrastructure and community development needs of a typical year to the urgent and unpredictable nature of a pandemic crisis, the Armstrong County Department of Planning and Development has had an eventful 12 months.

While balancing grant objectives with community and department safety protocols has been a challenge, county project accomplishments have kept pace with expectations in a variety of program areas.

“I am very pleased and proud of the success we have had during such a challenging year,” said Commissioner Chairman Don Myers. “Our Planning and Development Department has done an outstanding job securing grant funds, to help, aide and assist with community projects that make a difference in our county as a whole.”

Multimodal Projects

Projects funded through multimodal transportation funds improved roads in the City of Parker, Bradys Bend, Parks, Rayburn and West Franklin townships and replaced bridges in Perry, Kiskiminetas, Cowanshannock and Kittanning townships. At a combined construction cost of nearly $2.2 million, these projects were funded in a large part through grants from PennDOT and the Commonwealth Financing Authority. County and municipal funds were leveraged to secure these funds.

Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC) grants made two studies possible in 2020. The State Route 28 to I-80 Corridor Improvements study has identified multiple improvements now under consideration by the Board of Commissioners. The study will guide future construction projects to improve the corridor in Rayburn, Boggs, Pine and Mahoning townships, and South Bethlehem borough.

Also funded by an SPC grant, is the Freeport Trail HUB study. The study will determine the best way to connect several regional trails at a central hub, creating a trailhead with parking and wayfinding signage in the Freeport area. Officials expect the study to begin in 2021.

Another SPC grant-funded project to be undertaken next year is the U.S. Route 422 Traffic Signal Upgrades Project, which will improve traffic lights in the Worthington–West Franklin Township area. The traffic signals are owned by Worthington Borough and West Franklin Township.

“The SPC plays an important role in funding local municipal transportation projects in southwestern PA,” Commissioner Pat Fabian said. “I am honored to have been recently elected as secretary-treasurer of the SPC. In this leadership role, I will work hard for this region to find additional transportation dollars for municipalities.”

Façade, Cupola and Blight Projects

A former school administration building in Rural Valley was demolished in early 2020 and demolition work is underway on an abandoned structure in Freeport through the county’s blight remediation program and ACT 152 funds. Under the Redevelopment Authority of the County of Armstrong (RACA) Land Bank program, two Apollo structures were demolished earlier this year, with one property sold and one remaining on the market. The land bank program is supported by DCED grant funds.

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Since Armstrong School District has joined the land bank program, more communities are expected to participate in the coming year.

“The Land Bank and Blight Program are great tools for cleaning up our neighborhoods,” Commissioner Jason Renshaw said. “We look forward to building on these programs in the coming year — to expand these efforts in more of our communities in order to help fix the problem of blighted and abandoned structures, and get those properties back into productive use.”

Façade projects to revitalize streetscapes are underway in Kittanning’s business district through DCED’s Keystone Communities Program for façade grants. In 2020, the first project was completed on an Arch Street façade and planners anticipate eight facades on Market, Water, Jefferson and McKean streets will be completed in 2021.

In 2020, work began on the courthouse roof and cupola. The $2.9 million project to restore the aging and damaged cupola is funded, in part, by a $100,000 Keystone Historic Preservation Grant through the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, with remaining funds from Armstrong County’s capital improvements fund. Work, under the general contractor Miller-Thomas-Gyekis Inc. of Pittsburgh, will continue through next year.

Housing Projects

Planning and Development staff coordinates housing rehabilitation projects across the county. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic and related issues made coordinating these and other construction projects more challenging. Depleted inventories, shutdowns, shipping delays, and escalating material costs meant that projects got off to a sluggish start. Despite setbacks, 16 housing rehabilitation projects began in 2020, with three completed and construction expected to wrap up on the remaining 13 next year. Grant constraints meant this year’s projects were limited to single-unit, owner-occupied homes. Eight projects were supported through CDBG funds and the remaining were through the USDA Rural Development Housing Preservation Grant (HPG).

Coronavirus Projects

No retrospective of 2020 could be complete without considering the impact on local communities by the coronavirus pandemic. In response to distressed communities, the Armstrong County Board of Commissioners allocated CDBG-CV funds to the Armstrong County Community Action Agency Food Bank Program and to the Mechling-Shakely Veterans Center in Sugarcreek Township.

Planning and Development staff have begun coordinating the projects to help Community Action supplement local area food banks, and to assist Mechling-Shakely Veterans Center in upgrading personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitization resources.

These projects are supported through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds.

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