Jul. 22—ALTOONA — Construction begins next week on safety improvements along a developing stretch of U.S. 12 where a pedestrian died in 2017.
Pedestrian crossing lights, a crosswalk and paved trails leading to the intersection of Third Street and U.S. 12 will be added through a $113,400 project funded by the state Department of Transportation.
"This crossing is a big improvement," said Altoona City Planner Joshua Clements.
The project is intended to guide pedestrians and bicyclists to the safer Third Street intersection and away from the highway at Nottingham Way or other locations where there aren't traffic lights.
The impetus for the project goes back to a fatal accident a few years ago, which resulted in the death of an Altoona woman.
In December 2017, Zize Sabani died after being hit by a car while crossing the highway at Nottingham Way. The incident prompted increased attention to boost pedestrian safety on U.S. 12 in Altoona.
Knowing the state would improve the U.S. 12/Third Street intersection, Altoona had the new housing developments on the south side of the highway take that into consideration.
"With the development of Hillcrest Greens there, that intersection was designed with this connection in mind," Clements said.
Trails and sidewalks included in the newer neighborhoods will link up to the new sections being built by the state project this summer.
The Third Street intersection safety project is scheduled to be finished in early September. During construction, U.S. 12 will remain open to traffic, but motorists may encounter temporary lane and shoulder closures at the intersection, according to a state Department of Transportation news release.
Growing to the south
While the busy four-lane highway is an efficient way to pass through the city, it does become a barrier for residents in newly built homes and businesses on the south side of U.S. 12 to reach the rest of Altoona without getting in a car.
"Our plan identifies Highway 12 as a huge impediment," Clements said, noting the high-speed traffic on the roadway.
Currently the only U.S. 12 intersection in Altoona with pedestrian crossing lights is at 10th Street, which is nearly a mile from Third Street.
While there are few safe places for pedestrians to cross the highway, there is a lot of new development occurring along it.
Between 2016 and this June, there were 740 new dwelling units approved in Altoona, according to the city's records. About 30% of that total was for housing along the south side of U.S. 12, accounting for much of the single-family homes built recently in the city.
And Altoona is expected to continue growing in that direction.
"We know that from a long-range perspective, a lot of our growth we anticipate being to the south," Clements said.
New housing and businesses are already planned farther to the east along U.S. 12, which is prompting the city to bring attention to the Mayer Road intersection in Altoona's planning documents.
"At some point that intersection will be looked at further for what improvements could be done there," Clements said.
Like the current Third Street intersection safety improvement project, upgrades at Mayer Road would ultimately be led by the state Department of Transportation, Clements said.