Flagmen take away memories of Greencastle

PAT FRIDGEN
Crews laid a final section of concrete under the watchful eyes of several inspectors and a local citizen. JVH Excavating is still completing work on Jefferson Street but Baltimore Street is now open to unrestricted travel. It will remain that way until PennDOT starts its paving project, which will be soon.

For the most part, JVH Excavators wrapped up its work in Greencastle last week. The water lines are laid, Baltimore Street is open to through traffic in both directions and the flagmen are gone.

Men and women stood in the hot sun for months with the stop/slow signs during the major infrastructure improvement project. They formed opinions about the local drivers, just as the drivers let the flagmen know what they thought about the downtown navigation.

The flag crew, as many as 10 people during the busiest time, has moved on to the next assignment closer to Harrisburg. Two men who were the last standing in Greencastle handled the traffic flow on West Baltimore Street at Jefferson Avenue as the final bit of concrete was poured.

Bull, 58, and Nelson, 62, chose to go by first names only. Both have decades of experience moving vehicles through construction zones.

"This is the worst town in 41 years I've ever flagged for," said Bull. "I never want to come back here." He referred to the impatience of drivers, the people who cursed, yelled, called the crew names and resorted to racial epithets.

Eventually he admitted that most of the people were nice and would wave and respond well to his directions. The minority made his job unpleasant.

People made up excuses when they went but should have stopped. 'He (the guy at the other end) told me to go' or 'I didn't see you' were common explanations. One woman almost ran him over, leaving 15 feet of skidmarks. He didn't understand how anyone could not notice his protective attire of fluorescent green or the orange cones in the street or the work crews and trucks.

"Our lives are at stake," he added. "We're not here to agitate. If a town wants a new water line, you have to be patient."

Nelson was a bit more forgiving. He thought most people were very nice, even courteous. Again, it was the few who caused problems.

"You have to expect the unexpected, watch both ways. People go right by you and head into oncoming traffic. Some go way too slow, too."

He noted that once the wait got to be five minutes, people became especially frustrated and didn't handle their travel delays well. "There was no age, gender or race that stood out. Everyone was prone to mess up. Occasionally we do too."

Bull wanted more support from Greencastle police in ticketing speeders or those who violated traffic laws. Many times drivers entered Baltimore Street the wrong way from the one-way street by Sheetz.

"Other towns make a ton of money with tickets, and people then start to obey the flagmen or took other routes," he said.

The most challenging part of the job was handling multiple traffic patterns at the Route 16 and US 11 intersection, and those waits prompted complaints. He didn't appreciate that citizens went to his boss, calling the flagmen 'ignorant' about their duties. Nevertheless, Bull was proud that no accidents occurred during the project. That reflected well on JVH and the crew and would keep insurance rates low.

Borough manager Kenneth Womack didn't hear of any complaints about the flaggers, but rather that people were upset with the number and locations of the roadwork at any one time. He was satisfied with the performance of the traffic monitors, doing "a thankless job." If anything, he said the borough could have coordinated the road closures better.

Nelson gave local residents the benefit of the doubt. "There were some bad things, but I stick with the people. Through it all, my thumbs up to the people."

PennDOT is here

With the water pipes in place, it is time for PennDOT to pave Route 16 from Upton to Bemisderfer Road. Inspector Alan High was in town last week supervising the final concrete roadway restoration near the train station overpass. He had requested two extra employees from JVH to make it eight men leveling the last batch of concrete.

"Seriously, you watch this concrete," he said of the rapid set cement pouring out of the truck. "It'll get ahead of them. It could harden on the truck if they don't work fast enough. The crew will be drained by the end of the day."

They were using accelerated concrete, which was geared to harden to 1200 psi within four hours, and then the lane could reopen. They still had two other sections to pour that afternoon.

High monitored the street work periodically over the months. He is one of two PennDOT supervisors in Franklin County and also had five other projects to inspect. He had been the recipient of citizen comments as well.

"Overall, people were relatively cooperative, as much as they've had to put up with," High said. "But we've had complaints, some stern complaints."

He said PennDOT's paving schedule would take several weeks once it got underway, but the first responsibility was to put in ramps at the crosswalks to meet American with Disabilities Act requirements. The milling and overlay will only be done from the Route 11 intersection east, and completed by Oct. 15. The paving of the western stretch will be done in 2010, after some road repairs.

Flagmen kept traffic moving safely during the five-month project when JVH Excavating installed new water lines in the borough of Greencastle. They were also on the scene for months prior to that when Columbia Gas installed its new lines. And a crew will be present when PennDOT paves the same stretch beginning any day now. When all is said and done, Baltimore Street will have been under construction for close to a year. The relationship between drivers and flagmen had its moments.