Razing planned for homes

EVERETT – A $150 million plan to widen the turnpike over a six-mile stretch in Bedford County is set to begin in coming years, but related work will uproot a neighborhood as soon as this summer.

Detailed last month in a public hearing, the 2017-19 work would widen the highway to six lanes south and west of Everett – making it one of the first central Pennsylvania portions in a long-term strategy to expand the turnpike statewide. The following step, planners said, will be widening work extending to Bedford and Breezewood.

Cutting through wooded areas and the riverside village of Earlston, the work will require several homeowners to leave before turnpike workers demolish their homes.

But for the handful of homeowners along Cornell Road in Snake Spring Township, the work already has yielded sizable checks as a contractor prepares to raze the neighborhood within months.

“I’m not [happy]. It’s my home,” said Beth Motter, whose mother owns the house at the entrance to the wooded neighborhood. Still, Motter said, New Enterprise Stone & Lime Co. Inc. – the company that invested more than $1 million to buy the homes – paid a fair price for the property.

The Cornell Road neighborhood, lying so close to the turnpike that tractor-trailers can be seen cruising next to Motter’s front yard, is practically an island, accessible only by a single-lane metal bridge that crosses over the highway. The Raystown Branch of the Juniata River blocks its other side.

The bridge would have to be replaced before the turnpike is widened, Turnpike Commission Project Manager Kevin Scheurich said. Rather than rebuild it from scratch at great expense, Scheurich said, New Enterprise elected to knock down the neighborhood it serves.

New Enterprise offered the low bid last summer for the bridge job at $5.7 million.

All the street’s residents had to agree before the company would buy their land, Motter said. Neighbors said it would be easier to deal with a private entity than with the Turnpike Commission, whose officials are permitted to seize land as long as they pay fair market value.

Cornell Road’s landowners were compensated handsomely for their land: The company bought one plot, a tenth of an acre valued at $900, for $50,000, according to a deed transfer.

The deadline to leave is Aug. 1, residents said – just under six months after they completed the sales.

Those living in other neighborhoods along the highway’s path already have been informed that they’ll eventually have to leave, Scheurich said.

“They’re entitled to a lot under the eminent domain code that we follow,” he said. Turnpike officials offer moving help and can assist in the search for new property.

The work from mile 149.5 to 155.5 will take roughly two years, according to a posted schedule, with the existing four lanes open for the bulk of the project. Smaller roads crossing the turnpike will require occasional detours, Scheurich said, as workers replace and eliminate local bridges.

Two small bridges outside Everett will be destroyed permanently amid the work; another, crossing near the Lutzville area, will be lost as well, officials said.

Among those likely to move as a result of the project is the Bedford County Humane Society, whose Lutzville Road animal shelter sits along the turnpike. The group will seek new land and a new home, it said in an April news release.

The expansion is set to cut into a New Enterprise Stone & Lime Co. quarry, which flanks the highway and extends thousands of feet in both directions. The quarry’s operations aren’t likely to be affected, said Steve Tomlinson, vice president and spokesman.

For those living just far enough not to be ordered to leave, the hassle of road work and the increased noise of a slightly closer turnpike could be irritating, Scheurich conceded. Roughly 80 feet wide now, the road will be closer to 120 feet wide in a few years, according to diagrams.

“It will be a struggle, of course, doing construction,” he said.

But the work will include enhanced noise barriers and stormwater runoff systems, modernizing an aging stretch of turnpike that has gone largely unchanged since it was first built in 1940. Ultimately, the entire toll road is slated to run at six lanes in hopes of handling greater traffic, Scheurich said.

Soon, he said, the commission will advertise for design on the next step: the stretch from Everett to the Breezewood interchange.

“The pavement’s in poor condition. The traffic’s at a lot higher volume,” he said. “We’re making it a more modern highway system.”

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.