John Semanchik stands inside the Portage Service Center with a smile on his face as he watches traffic move smoothly along Route 53 or turn onto Main Street.

Gone are the long lines of cars and trucks at this busy intersection where his brother’s business is located.

“It’s just a lot better traffic flow,” Semanchik said Tuesday.

“The trucks can make (it through) the intersection a lot better. It’s just a lot nicer.”

Route 53 is a heavily used corridor for traffic moving to and from the Forest Hills and Johnstown areas and truck traffic hauling coal to a cleaning plant at Sonman in Portage Township.

PennDOT last week took the wraps off of a nearly $3 million intersection-widening project and turned on the traffic lights – steps geared at reducing traffic congestion and accidents.

Work on the project was nearly a decade in the planning and finally began in April. It involved widening by more than one-third a half-mile stretch of Route 53, beginning north of Munster Road and extending beyond the McDonald’s restaurant there, PennDOT officials said.

Kim Barto of Dial Beer Distributors, Main Street, said the traffic situation should improve even more after a signal light at the nearby intersection of Main Street and Dulancy Drive is synchronized with the new light.

Barto said the six-month construction project made it difficult for customers to get into his business. “It was a long haul,” he said.

Much of the project’s cost involved right-of-way purchases from a number of businesses on the western side of Route 53.

A 350-foot stretch of Main Street leading toward the Portage business district was widened by 3 to 4 feet, and the right-of-way area was about 14 feet wide.

Newly appointed Portage Mayor Robert Fox is hopeful the improvements will open this section of the Route 53 corridor for business opportunities.

Fox said the traffic signal also should have an impact on traffic speed.

In addition, the project is designed to ease street flooding that had plagued businesses at the intersection.

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