Motorists traveling Route 209 in Mahoning Township, namely at the bottom of the Mansion House Hill, which enters Jim Thorpe, will see work along the shoulder of the roadway later this week, in the hopes of alleviating icy road conditions.
During an impromptu meeting between the Carbon County Commissioners, Mahoning Township supervisors and police chief; Jim Thorpe police chief and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials on Tuesday afternoon, a temporary solution to the water runoff problem that has been creating hazardous road conditions, was announced.
Mahoning Township Chief Kenneth Barnes welcomed everyone and explained that the hill is "a large conduit of traffic coming from Lehighton through the Jim Thorpe area."
The runoff that has been spilling onto the highway, he explained, is the cause of five accidents, two with injuries, that have occurred at the bottom of the hill in recent weeks.
He pointed out that one of the accidents that occurred on Monday evening, actually involved PennDOT's motorized sign. The car slid into the tow hitch, which then catapulted through the passenger side of the vehicle.
"Had someone been sitting in the passenger seat, it would have been a very dangerous situation," he said. "The reason this meeting has been called is because everyone is aware that there has been an elevated situation here with danger on the highway, and we're here to meet with PennDOT officials. Evidently they're going to have a short-term remedy to the problem, which needs to be done because this has become quite dangerous and we certainly have everyone's interest in mind when it comes to safety. We don't want to see anyone else hurt or anyone killed here."
Following Barnes, Commissioner William O'Gurek said he was glad everyone is working together to fix the problem.
He then introduced Tom Rogal, assistant county maintenance manager of PennDOT, who talked about the solution PennDOT plans to execute later this week.
Rogal thanked the commissioners and township officials for bringing them in as a partner instead of blaming them for the problem.
"We noticed this problem develop last week during the extreme cold temperatures," he said. "We had enormous amounts of rain this past fall and it's showing itself on the side of this mountain. At the time we began to look at potential solutions for this project, and we've come up with an intermediate solution and hopefully, a long-term solution.
Rogal said that the temporary solution will include increasing the slope of the shoulder closest to the mountain by milling three inches into the road. This will create a ditch where the water can travel until it reaches the drainage system.
"The shoulder was put in at proper standard grade, but we have a unique situation here where we have a cross flow going one way and a super-elevated curve going the other way," Rogal explained.
"As soon as that shoulder cannot handle the amount of water or you get ice or debris built up in it, it causes the water that is flowing continuously out of the side of the mountain to come down and go across the roadway, creating the icy condition that we have today.
"What we intend to do is mill approximately three inches deep along the mountainside to almost nothing at the white line. That will more than double the cross slope of the roadway of that shoulder and it should handle one inch per hour rainfalls."
He noted that the work on the shoulder is expected to tentatively begin on Thursday. The extreme right lane will be shut down during the work, leaving the passing lane and the opposing lane open to motorists.
No traffic delays are expected.
Rogal said the project is PennDOT's temporary fix to the problem, but officials are hoping this will also be the permanent fix.
If this solution does not work, Rogal said, PennDOT will look at a long-term fix involving some type of subsurface drainage, which would be installed in the spring.
PennDOT crews have been working on the problem since it started a few weeks ago.
Crews have been salting and scraping the road 24 hours a day, including four times during the course of the meeting.
"The water runoff has been an issue over the years from time to time," Rogal said, "but nothing to this magnitude."
He noted that some of the elements that created this problem include nine inches of rain that fell in Carbon County in November and two inches of rain that fell last Saturday. These higher than normal rainfalls, combined with the freezing temperatures, have escalated the runoff issue.
Following the announcement by Rogal, Commissioners Wayne Nothstein and Charles Getz; as well as Mahoning Township Supervisor George Stawnyczyj and Jim Thorpe Police Chief Joseph Schatz, weighed in on the situation.
Nothstein talked about the hazardous conditions that emergency service personnel have to work in when an accident happens and said he appreciates that PennDOT is trying to fix it.
Getz said it was nice that everyone has come together to work on this.
He also said he wonders if the clearing and development on top of Flagstaff Mountain is contributing to the extra runoff onto Route 209.
Stawnyczyj said the supervisors have been aware of the problem and have been working with the county and PennDOT on a remedy. He urged motorists to be careful while driving and to obey the signs.
"The residents in Jim Thorpe, Mahoning Township and people driving Route 209 have to realize there is a hazard on the roads. When that sign says 'Icy road ahead,' it means ice. It doesn't mean speed up or come flying out of town. It is dangerous. We don't want anyone hurt or killed. Please slow down," Stawnyczyj said.
Schatz, who was there as a representative for the Jim Thorpe residents, echoed Stawnyczyj's thoughts, stating that motorists need to slow down and adhere to the signs because they are there for a reason.