City study well worth exploring

How well Altoona’s current traffic patterns will meet future needs is an important question that needs to be answered.

Based on changes that have occurred downtown over the past few years, as well as changes that continue to evolve, the overall parking situation needs to be re-evaluated.

Meanwhile, maintaining adequate pedestrian access always is vitally important and remains an important item needing further scrutiny.

For this city, what’s needed now and what will be needed over, perhaps, the next decade can be identified through a comprehensive study, with downtown traffic circulation as the centerpiece of the review.

Commendably, city leaders, with active support from the region’s metropolitan planning agency, have taken a proactive step by asking the state Department of Transportation for funds to finance such a study — a study first proposed by the transportation committee of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce.

While obtaining the money might be uncertain now, due to the state’s budget-funding stalemate, it’s to be hoped that when that troubling issue is resolved, Altoona’s request will be waiting on PennDOT’s “doorstep” for a quick study-funding decision.

In a letter to PennDOT, Mayor Matt Pacifico stated correctly that “it is imperative at this time to address current concerns related to parking and the continued increase in vehicular and pedestrian traffic” downtown, due to new business starts and the continued growth of Penn State-Altoona’s downtown campus.

Prior to the redevelopment boom that began in the 1960s, Altoona’s downtown traffic patterns, side-by-side with the railroad industry’s downtown-area presence, coupled with the then-vibrant 11th and 12th avenues retail operations, remained virtually unchanged — and there really was no urgency in regard to making changes.

The decade-plus redevelopment effort brought construction of the 10th Avenue Expressway and the 17th Street Bridge, as well as other traffic improvements in and adjacent to the downtown.

Those additions helped keep the downtown relevant as a service center as Altoona retailers followed the national trend of moving to suburban shopping centers.

Construction of the downtown towers for the elderly kept hundreds of people in center city, in need of improved pedestrian accommodations, and the former Station Mall and influx of additional medical services became two major assets.

Today, the UPMC complex, where the Station Mall formerly stood, attracts patients from well beyond Blair County.

Interstate 99 cemented the downtown’s relevance, necessitating updates to roads connecting the two.

And, as I-99 traffic continues to increase, as well as new amenities to attract people here, the challenge is to have an updated traffic network in place.

In an Oct. 13 Mirror article, Patrick Miller, Greater Altoona Economic Development Corp. chief executive officer, summed up the scope of the proposed study, touching on one-way-traffic circulation, traffic “calming” measures, intersection improvements and additional and alternative connectors.

He also mentioned former ideas that never were implemented but that merit new consideration.

Unquestionably, the point has been reached where a comprehensive study would be a great investment toward preparing the city for the traffic needs that lie ahead.

Blair’s legislators should join other local leaders in lobbying for the study funding.