The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation started work yesterday on its six-month Tamaqua Central Business District Improvement Project on SR-209 and SR-309 in Tamaqua.

The project is designed to help improve safety and mitigate traffic congestion in downtown Tamaqua and will include traffic signal upgrades, railroad/emergency services traffic signal preemption devices, pedestrian signal upgrades, new curb ramps, new signs and traffic control sensors in the central business district of the Tamaqua Borough.

The work will take place on SR-309 between Spruce and Elm streets, and on SR-209 between SR-309 and Greenwood Street. Motorists will experience sporadic daytime lane restrictions.

A traffic congestion study was completed in 2002 by Alfred Benesch, Pottsville, after Tamaqua Borough Council responded to numerous complaints regarding traffic flow through the center of Tamaqua. After discussing several options of the completed study, borough council chose one. In addition to holding multiple public meetings and hearings, the plan was forwarded to PennDOT and Northeastern Penn Rural Transportation Planning Organization for funding.

The borough also requested a number of proprietary items, such as decorative traffic lights that match the recently completed Mainstreet Project. PennDOT accepted those requests.

"This project should increase traffic flow and decrease congestion through Tamaqua," borough manager Kevin Steigerwalt said.

Although the borough requested more turning arrows at various intersections, only one turn signal was eventually added in the plan at the Center and Spruce Street intersection.

"Drivers should travel with caution and allow for a little extra time to get to their destination," Steigerwalt stressed.

The majority of the work evolves around new traffic lights and new handicap ramps.

Bruce & Merrilees Electric Company of New Castle, Pa. is the general contractor on the the $1,787,487 project. It will be utilizing special sideways boring methods to dig under the road, limiting the effect on traffic flow during the long project.

"We'll be monitoring construction patterns every day during this long project to keep traffic flowing through Tamaqua," Lori Dewald, transportation construction inspector from HRV Conformance Verification Associates, a PennDOT contractor, said.

Work is expected to be completed in December.

"If you go the speed limit, you should hit more green lights," added Steigerwalt.