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Allentown's bustling Basin Street getting a summer safety make-over

By Randy Kraft, WFMZ.com Reporter, RKraft@wfmz.com
Published On: Mar 13 2014 11:56:25 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 14 2014 05:36:28 AM CDT

Randy Kraft/Channel 69 News

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

Speeders on heavily-traveled Basin Street, a vital link between south Allentown and center city, won't be driving as fast this summer.

Traffic will be slowed by construction, as safety improvements are made on that curving road, which covers less than a mile from traffic lights at the Auburn Street intersection to traffic lights at the Union Street intersection.

Basin Street is being targeted for improvements because it has a high accident history, said Richard Young, Allentown's public works director.

Young predicted the work will begin in mid to late spring and should take about six months to complete. He said Basin Street will remain open during the entire project, but with lane restrictions.

"It's a good proposal and I think it will improve safety along that corridor," said Young.

When the $500,000 project is completed, each of Basin Street's four lanes will be one foot narrower.

The northbound and southbound lanes will be separated by a 4-foot-wide rumble strip median.

And, electronic signs facing both directions of traffic will have built-in radar detectors and will flash warnings to speeders to slow down.

The speed limit is 35 mph on that road, said Young, but most people drive much faster.

"They fly on Basin Street," commented Ray O'Connell, vice president of Allentown City Council. "It's a speedway."

A crackdown on speeders will begin soon by the Allentown police department, said City Council member Daryl Hendricks, who recently retired from that department.

Hendricks said police have received state funding to do more "targeted enforcement" along Basin Street.

He added there already is "on-going enforcement on that stretch of roadway."

Young explained many of the planned improvements are designed to "calm" - meaning slow - the traffic.

"Just by narrowing the lanes, people will tend to drive slower," Young said. Each of the traffic lanes now is 12 feet wide, he said. Reducing them to 11 feet will allow for the creation of the four-foot-wide rumble strip median in the center of the road.

Young said all lanes on Hanover Avenue in east Allentown are 11 feet wide.

An anti-skid material also will be added when Basin Street is resurfaced.

"It's a good plan," said O'Connell, who chairs City Council's public works committee. "This is the first step. If we sense that we need to do further things to make it more safe, we would do that also."

Young agreed, saying: "If this doesn't work out, we may want to take a look at some other things."

When the project was put before City Council last May, O'Connell argued that a concrete median barrier should be erected to prevent head-on collisions by cars straying into the opposite lanes of traffic.

Young did look into installing such a barrier, but concluded it would block visibility for many motorists because of sharp curves on Basin Street.

He explained if a concrete median would be erected, drivers approaching a curve might not be able to see vehicles backed up and stopped on the far side of the curve.

O'Connell agreed, saying concrete barriers could make the road more dangerous than it is now.

Based on crash studies, Basin, between Union and Auburn is considered a top priority for safety improvements by PennDOT.

Between 2009 and 2011, 124 reported accidents occurred on that stretch - including two fatalities, both caused by head-on collisions, a PennDOT engineer told City Council last year. Another PennDOT official said most of the accidents were head-on collisions.

The city rejected an early PennDOT proposal for Basin Street, which would have involved reducing traffic to only one lane in each direction, with a four-foot-wide median of planters separating the two lanes.

The city is getting federal funds totaling $575,000 that will completely pay for the Basin Street safety improvements -- $500,000 for construction and $75,000 for a construction inspector.

Young said the city is in the process of hiring a consultant to serve as construction inspector.

The project originally was supposed to be completed by this summer, but O'Connell said the federal funding just became available.

Young indicated all of South 4th Street, which is what Basin Street becomes south of Auburn Street, needs improvements "but that's a much, much larger project."

On Wednesday night, O'Connell's three-member committee unanimously agreed to have the full City Council act on approving the federal funding for the Basin Street project next week

O'Connell's committee also will recommend that City Council vacate a short section of E. Jeans Street in east Allentown. It is an alley existing only on paper between N. Gilmore to N. Glynn streets, two other streets that don't actually exist in that location.

Young said vacating that section of Jeans Street is just a formality.
He explained the city has lost its right to build a street there because more than 21 years have passed.

He said each adjoining property owner will get 10 feet more land, half of the alley's right-of-way.