The seven-mile stretch of Pennsylvania State Route 222 (SR222) between the Kutztown Bypass and the Reading Bypass in Berks County, Pennsylvania, is a picturesque corridor that draws heavy truck traffic to and from New York, volume that historically created significant back-ups at the highway’s three major intersections.
Congestion was especially hazardous for local residents, who depend on SR222 to get practically everywhere. Many of those residents belong to the Mennonite community who cross SR222 with horse-drawn buggies.
In 2011, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) engaged our team at Michael Baker International to manage a highway improvement project that encompassed three miles of the corridor, the SR222 North Corridor, Phase 1 Project, and engaged us to design those improvements. Our team created a solution simultaneously simple and effective: replace existing traffic signals and stop signs at two of the intersections with roundabouts.
Our team designed hybrid roundabouts featuring two lanes, narrowing to single lanes where appropriate, to allow simultaneous use by pairs of trucks. This was one of the first times hybrid roundabouts were used in Pennsylvania.
We encountered several complexities as the project was designed and constructed. There were many utilities along the corridor that needed to be coordinated and in addition, our team created a maintenance of traffic plan that targeted much of construction during nighttime hours.
Throughout the design and construction of this project, our team encountered challenges, leading to lessons learned.
A commitment to adapt and persevere.
This project was more than a decade in the making. During that time, we experienced many changes. This spanned from changes in timelines to changes in project limits and preferred design alternatives. Through it all, our team adapted and persevered to ensure the successful completion of the project.
A focus on goals.
The purpose of this project was to enhance the intersections to allow for increased capacity while improving safety along the SR 222 corridor. The project has improved intersection operations, overall delay through the corridor and pedestrian accessibility. While there was no question about the purpose of the project, the public and local stakeholders initially were unsure about the use of roundabouts. Our design team and client were unwavering in the belief that modern roundabouts would improve traffic flow and provide immense safety benefits over the existing intersection configurations. Public outreach and education were essential to educate the community that our alternatives would provide them with a less congested, efficient and safer roadway.
A focus on communication.
We brought together the design and construction teams with the goal of working as one entity. To achieve this, we established constant communication between all team members and our additional stakeholders. We knew that construction would impact this highly traveled regional arterial, so bi-weekly status meetings became the norm during peak construction activities. The combined design and construction team, along with PennDOT, used this time to keep business owners, local police and township officials abreast of upcoming construction activities, roadway closures and nighttime work. This coordination and communication allowed potential issues to be identified early and addressed in a timely manner.
An unprecedented complexity.
The project began construction in the fall of 2019 and was impacted in March of 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic. When the team was cleared to resume construction, the new pandemic protocols added an additional layer of coordination. The use of technology and collaboration tools – like video conferencing and instant messaging – were bridged the gap when we were unable to physically be in the same place. This was a huge undertaking during construction, where most problems are typically solved in the field with face-to-face interactions.
The roundabouts opened in June 2022 and quickly achieved their principal objective, reducing travel time by about 25 percent.