NO. 6 ROAD: Improved Roads in Amish Country

Dec. 5, 2022
SR-222 gets improvements to help out the Amish community

In 2011, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation saw a need to improve State Route 222 between the Kutztown Bypass and the Reading Bypass in Berks County, Pennsylvania. The corridor draws heavy truck traffic to and from New York, which has created significant back-ups at the highways three major intersections throughout the years. The traffic is dangerous for residents, many who belong to the Mennonite community who use SR222 with horse-drawn buggies.

The SR222 North Corridor, Phase 1 Project encompassed three miles of the corridor. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation hired Michael Baker International to manage the project and their solution was simple: replace existing traffic signals and stop signs at two of the intersections with roundabouts.

Designed by the Michael Baker team, these hybrid roundabouts feature two lanes, narrowing to single lanes where appropriate, which allows simultaneous use by a pair of trucks. This was, notably, one of the first times hybrid roundabouts were used in Pennsylvania. Luckily, the roundabouts were a success when they opened in June 2022, achieving their objective of reducing travel time by 25 percent.

The project was necessary to improve intersection operations while minimizing overall delay along SR222. In order to improve the corridor, the Michael Baker team had to gather input from stakeholders and the public and determined that mobility and safety concerns could be alleviated by the use of roundabouts at two of the intersections. One roundabout replaced traffic signals and the other replaced a stop sign. Due to a historic property and existing topography, the team determined that a third roundabout at State Route 73 would not be suitable.

The team didn’t use a conventional roundabout design, which is typically limited to a single lane. Instead, they developed a multi-lane roundabout. The team’s roundabouts are hybrids that feature two full lanes that narrow to a single lane, wide enough to accommodate two trucks simultaneously, or other wide vehicles, such as snowplows, considering snowplows are common in the region’s winters, and the accommodation was key in the design of the roundabout.

Stephen Shimko, the Project Manager, talked about the safety precautions on this project, saying “Roundabouts are the safest form of intersection control because they eliminate the high-speed crossing vehicle paths and replace them with lower speed maneuvers. In Pennsylvania, roundabouts have been shown to reduce serious injuries by 76% while still showing a reduction in crashes. This region is also home to a sizable Amish community and the slower operating speeds of roundabouts reduce the speed differential between users.” 

Some challenges the Michael Baker team faced were utilities in the corridor, and traffic maintenance. Many of the utilities along the corridor had to be coordinated by the Michael Baker team. Traffic maintenance was a huge challenge, considering there aren’t many alternative roadways for traffic to go. The team solved the issue by using a combination of numerous staged construction patterns along with the use of nighttime construction and restrictions. Luckily, the construction schedule kept traffic flowing and assured businesses in plazas along the highway suffered no disruptions. R&B

Project: SR222 North Corridor, Phase 1 Project

Location: Berks County, Pennsylvania

Owners: The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

Designer: Michael Baker International

ContractorJ.D. Eckman, Inc.

Cost: $26,998,118

Length: 7 miles

Completion Date: June 2022