From the Pottsville Rebublican Hearld in 2010:
New road to improve traffic at Route 61 and Tunnel Road
BY STEPHEN J. PYTAK (STAFF WRITER [email protected]
)Published: August 26, 2010
A contractor is filling in a former railroad tunnel to build a road to serve a few businesses just off Route 61 in East Norwegian Township.
It's part of the Empire Education Group's plan to expand its home office, and it's spurred plans to improve traffic flow at Route 61 and Tunnel Road, according to Frank J. Zukas, president of Schuylkill Economic Development Corp.
Franklin K. Schoeneman, chairman and CEO of Empire, said to allow safe passage for the patrons of the businesses along the strip, including McDonald's, an access road is being constructed at a cost of $500,000.
"We're filling in an old railroad tunnel with thousands of loads of fill. It's a huge, two-train track tunnel. The road will go on top of it," Schoeneman said.
A half-century ago, the Pennsylvania Railroad used those tracks, according to David Derbes, president of the Historical Society of Schuylkill County, Pottsville.
"They were used by the Pennsylvania Railroad back in the '50s, probably even into the '60s to some extent, when the Pennsylvania Railroad came up this way. That was part of the railroad line that went from Mount Carbon up to Frackville," Derbes said.
Currently, drivers headed south on Route 61 must either make a U-turn at the intersection or turn into the McDonald's driveway to get to Empire Education Group at 396 Route 61 North.
Schoeneman said he currently has 265 employees at Empire Education Group, the home office for the 99 cosmetology schools he runs in 21 states. He's planning to hire another 150 once a $7 million expansion project is complete in February. So access to the building must be improved.
Zukas said the project is being funded in part by a $392,000 infrastructure grant SEDCO acquired from the state Department of Community and Economic Development.
"It's called an IDP grant. It stands for Infrastructure Development Program. It was very difficult to get, but the project had such a large economic impact that the state was willing to make that investment," Zukas said.
The rest of the road project is being financed by Schoeneman and McDonald's, Zukas said.
The land the new road is being built on is owned by Reading Anthracite. Once construction is complete in October, the road will be deeded to East Norwegian Township, Schoeneman said.
The road will intersect Tunnel Road near the turn to Evergreen Medical Center, stretch north for a block and stop at a turnaround spot near Empire Education Group, Schoeneman said.
"So drivers who are southbound will only have to turn left onto Tunnel Road, then left onto the new road to get to our building and they'll be safe. McDonald's will have a rear entrance as well," Schoeneman said.
Landis C. Deck & Sons Site Contractors, Bernville, is constructing the new road.
Meanwhile, more improvements to the Route 61/Tunnel Road intersection are on the way, Zukas said.
East Norwegian Township, the state Department of Transportation and the federal government through the office of U.S. Rep. Tim Holden, D-17, are working together to plan to upgrade the intersection, Zukas said.
This project would make the area safer by eliminating a bordering driveway that has led to vehicle accidents.
"You know how you can come off Tunnel Road and make an immediate left and come in front of all the buildings, including McDonald's? That's going to be cut off. It's a different project, but it dovetails on this one. It's very close to happening and it's going to happen," Zukas said.