Tamaqua's traffic changes may not be over yet.
Michael Tirpak, of Carbon Engineering, presented Tamaqua Borough Council with some preliminary suggestions for changes to the intersection of Center and Cedar streets, on behalf of his client, Don Fegley, who owns Fegley's Minimart near the intersection.
Tirpak explained that his client acquired the lot to the south of the minimart last year, with the particular intent of improving access to the existing lot for the regular fueling and delivery trucks that frequent the business.
"Presently, they enter and exit where ever," said Tirpak.
He went on to outline a plan that called for a signalized driveway, that would essentially be an extension of Cedar Street, which would allow traffic to enter and exit the property, and an entrance only to the north of the site, which would allow traffic in the southbound lane to enter the property directly. Additionally, appropriate curbing and sidewalks would be installed to create safer pedestrian access in the area. Currently, there is no curb, and all traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, share the same area.
Although council members agreed the area is dangerous and does need improvements, the suggested proposals did not go over well. One "iteration," according to Tirpak, includes creating left turn lanes on Center Street, one on the south side of the intersection, for turning into the minimart, and one on the north side of the intersection, to turn onto Cedar Street. This situation already exists on the north side; however, the proposed change on the south side would mean the current through lane on SR309 would become the left turn lane and the current right turn only lane, onto Cedar Street, would become the through lane.
Councilman John Trudich vehemently objected to losing the right turn only lane.
"That will only tie up traffic more," he said. "It'll be tied up back to the Ridge Cup."
Dennis Toomey, the PennDOT representative who was in attendance, said the suggested change to the intersection would actually make traffic worse than it is today.
"Right now, there is an informal way to make left turns into this business. If you formalize it and only go in at the signal, you force the through movements and the left turns to share the same lanes, you're going to be worse."
This proposal also calls for the possible elimination of three parking spaces on Center Street, located along the area currently occupied by the Tamaqua Diner. Parking in the downtown area is already at a premium and council members were reluctant to approve any proposal which eliminated spaces.
Councilman David Mace asked if the Fegley lot could be improved to support additional parking spaces. Tirpak indicated that it was something to be considered.
Councilman Brian Connely said this plan would also mean the borough loses three parking meters. Connely questioned why left turn signals would be considered at this intersection, when they were denied by PennDOT for the larger intersection of state routes 309 and 209 at the 5 Points. Trudich continued to voice his disapproval, saying the area would be a "circus."
Kathy Fegley Nichols, one of the property owners, said that is the situation that currently exists all along the property.
Nichols said she is at the property on a daily basis and she is regularly "scared" to go in and out, due to the uncontrolled traffic.
"It's a safety issue, every day," she said. "This way would be safer. Not just for our business, but for the whole community."
She said they recently added a Dunkin' Donuts to the minimart.
"We want our customers to come in, to provide a bigger business for the community. We want more parking in the lot."
She added that access to and from the diner is also less than ideal and a safety hazard as it currently exists.
"This would benefit a business on the west side of the street, but could be equally detrimental to businesses on the east side of the street," said Mace. "I don't see how we can afford to lose more parking on Center Street. In addition to the diner and the minimart, the area is home to Shafer's Pharmacy, the M&T bank, and the Sunoco gas station. The borough would also assume the costs of maintaining any new signals that are placed at the intersection."
Tirpak indicated the initial installation would be paid for by the Fegley's.
Tirpak noted they need the borough to approve the elimination of the parking spaces before they submit the plans to PennDOT. Council President Micah Gursky said that it would be "wonderful to signalize the intersection" and the improvements to the pedestrian area would benefit the entire community; however, he wanted to know if the Fegley's could possibly work with Advanced Auto Parts to create a common entrance to both businesses.
Council did not approve the plan, but did advise Tirpak they are willing to consider additional options.