In an area where traffic jams are rare, even a short trip on Route 601 near this borough’s turnpike interchange can be maddening.

But with a wide-reaching, $3.25 million project that began Monday, PennDOT officials are trying to change that.

The job, which will extend into next spring, includes paving, road widening, utility work and signal upgrades designed to move thousands of vehicles through the area more quickly.

That may provide some welcome relief for drivers who daily are caught up in a gauntlet of traffic lights interspersed among dozens of businesses on Route 601, also known as North Center Avenue.

Sporadic turning lanes and turnpike traffic exacerbate the situation, and congestion can stretch all the way north to the Wal-Mart Supercenter near the Route 219 entrance.

PennDOT’s project, awarded to New Enterprise Stone and Lime Co. Inc. of Bedford County, comes after years of study.

“They’ve designed this project with improved traffic flow in mind, so I’m anxious to see what the results will be when it’s done,” said Ben Vinzani, Somerset Borough manager.

Crews will begin work this week by relocating sewer pipes along the road, PennDOT officials said.

Detours will be in place later this week or early next week, with traffic rerouted to the rear of McDonald’s via the turnpike-access road.

Utility relocation will allow contractors to begin widening a Route 601 bridge over the turnpike. That is necessary because PennDOT officials plan to install a new right-turn lane from Water Works Road south to the turnpike entrance.

Near the end of the project, paving is planned on roads including Route 601, Route 31 and Edgewood Avenue.

And in the meantime, PennDOT plans to upgrade and interconnect all traffic lights on Route 601 from Main Street in the borough to the Route 219 ramp in Somerset Township.

The signals will have sensors that track the number of vehicles lined up at any given intersection, PennDOT District 9 spokeswoman Pam Kane said.

“There will be better traffic flow,” Kane said.

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