Upcoming traffic study will help Altoona

It’s best for Altoona residents to be open-minded about the downtown traffic study that will begin in about a month.

The Mountain City’s vehicular traffic still is being governed by decisions made a half-century ago or longer. Times, needs and conditions change, and Altoona, like other cities large and small, should put traffic patterns under the proverbial microscope periodically to ensure that they still are serving the municipality in the way — and with the efficiency — intended.

This isn’t to imply that those who use the city’s roadways shouldn’t eventually be allowed to offer suggestions, but for now, they should be content to watch and wait for when public input will be sought.

That opportunity and the most important discussion probably won’t occur until late 2019 or early 2020.

As envisioned, the study will be a 12- to 18-month endeavor.

The state Department of Transportation, which will pay for 80 percent of the study, has hired the consulting firm of McCormick Taylor of Camp Hill to perform the work. Based on an Oct. 2 Mirror article, it seems possible that significant changes could be forthcoming once the study is completed.

According to that article, one of the major focuses of change could be the 10th Avenue Expressway.

Expressway-related ideas that already have been voiced include reducing the number of lanes, converting it to a two-way roadway from its current southbound travel flow, and otherwise slowing the traffic that uses it. A point for debate is whether slower travel on the expressway might help to improve business in the downtown core area.

That can be a reasonable point for consideration, but it’s also reasonable to conclude that most people using the expressway as a quicker means to their destinations aren’t likely to detour to 11th and 12th avenues because they’re traveling more slowly.

The attitude that “capturing” traffic is a good idea has been proven in many places to be foolhardy; motorists simply opt for another route that meets their time and convenience expectations.

That isn’t to say that there shouldn’t be any reversals to the traffic flow on some streets, implementation of two-way travel on some other streets and making some current two-way-travel streets one way.

City residents should maintain a keen interest in how the study shakes out.

Altoona is well-served by the 10th Avenue Expressway — a product of 1960s planning — just like the Mountain City’s neighbor to the west, Johnstown, is well-served by the expressway that carries traffic that wants to steer clear of the central business district around that area — quickly.

For Altoona, the soon-to-begin study must weigh all of that.

Fortunately for Altoona, the existence of Interstate 99 in close proximity to center city will give motorists another alternative if they don’t like the changes that eventually emanate from the study.

Again, the foundation of the coming study should be open-mindedness. The consultant, beyond examining the city’s traffic patterns, should seek ongoing input from city and county planners, business leaders, leaders of organizations, school officials, medical service providers, members of the working community and others.

The traffic planning of a half-century ago has served this city well.

It’s to be hoped that what emerges from this new study will be similarly successful for at least the next 25 or 50 years.