Phase 1 of Route 65 study complete

Monday, November 25, 2019 | 6:01 AM

The first phase of a Route 65 corridor study that examines a 32-mile stretch of roadway from Bellevue to Rochester in Beaver County is wrapping up.

Quaker Valley Council of Governments (QVCOG) and the Carnegie Mellon University Remaking Cities Institute are collaborating on the study, which thus far has been funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Mobility 21 research initiative that involves CMU, as well as the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

According to a project website, the study will help communities form strategies and plans to improve quality of life along the corridor.

Stephen Quick, a CMU professor and manager of the Route 65 corridor project, said the study looks at safety, corridor design, multi-modal transit opportunities, economic development issues and accommodating new technologies like autonomous vehicles.

“We’re just now completing the first phase of the study, and that was basically an understanding of the issues and data collection and some analysis,” Quick said.

At four community meetings from August to October, residents of communities along the corridor provided feedback on issues like multi-modal transportation opportunities, attracting investment, roadway safety and land use.

Remaking Cities Institute also collected demographic and economic data on the 19 municipalities along the corridor using U.S. census information. Physical roadway information was taken from Google Earth, PennDOT and literature research. Aurora Innovations, a software company, helped the institute gather information on autonomous vehicles and what they can and cannot see during operation, Quick said.

“We understand the issues of safety and design pretty well. What we don’t really understand yet is the interrelationship between 65 and the communities themselves, and that will take more work as we go forward,” he added.

Ohio Township police Chief Joseph Hanny is not currently involved in the study but said the evaluation of Route 65 is timely, adding that “it has been decades since it has been addressed, and traffic has only increased.”

His department patrols a section of Route 65 that runs through Kilbuck Township, Emsworth and Ben Avon. This multi-municipal section of Route 65 illustrates the diverse landscapes seen along the entire corridor, which includes largely undeveloped, higher-speed stretches of road and residential areas that typically have a 40 mph speed limit.

Ohio Township police monitor traffic near the border of Kilbuck and a residential section of Emsworth, where drivers heading south toward the city tend to travel at higher speeds.

“I think that in today’s environment and through studies, there are different types of signage that would get the drivers’ attention more, make them more aware that there’s a residential section as you come out of that part of 65,” Hanny said.

When it comes to stimulating economic development along the corridor, creative place-making is one potential strategy, said RJ Thompson, a principal at Plus Public LLC who has been involved in the corridor study on an as-needed basis. He said art can be used in a specific, targeted way to stimulate community engagement and build identity.

Thompson pointed to the Bellevue Believes project, which he started, as an example that can be extended to other communities. The project uses public art to showcase residents’ beliefs about what makes Bellevue special.

Next year, QVCOG and Remaking Cities will devise a series of recommendations on topics like safety, economic development, multi-modal transit and more. The public will have access to the report, likely through PennDOT, QVCOG and Carnegie Mellon websites.

Completing these recommendations could take nine to 12 months, and PennDOT will be able to use information from the study to improve corridors across the state, Quick said.

He said the organizations involved have made a proposal to PennDOT to contribute more than $100,000 in funding for the remainder of the study.

“We have a proposal to PennDot to fund a majority of the study, and that’s under consideration by PennDOT. We hope to have that in place by the start of the year,” Quick said.

QVCOG Executive Director Susan Hockenberry did not respond to multiple requests for comment.