Updated 4 hours ago
Fans who attend next month’s Shop ‘n Save Westmoreland County Airshow will find a high-flying spectacle waiting at the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport — as well as new traffic patterns on the way to the Unity site.
Work is under way along Route 981 near the airport to widen sections of the road and replace its X-shaped intersection with Gravel Hill Road. PennDOT is constructing a circular roundabout that should allow traffic to flow more smoothly along Route 981, a new spur of Charles Houck Road and the entrance to the airport, which is being relocated.
PennDOT and airport officials say that roadwork, which is slated to continue into the fall at a cost of nearly $14 million, shouldn’t affect the 100,000 or more motorists who are expected to travel to the annual air show June 24 and 25.
Work on the project has at times restricted two-lane Route 981 to a single lane during daylight hours, with flaggers allowing northbound and southbound traffic to alternate.
PennDOT notes those restrictions will continue, with two-way travel on Route 981 restored at the end of each workday.
But Troy Pritts, PennDOT’s project manager, said the state is requiring that Plum Contracting’s work create “no major traffic restrictions” during the air show weekend. He pointed out the contractor’s crews have not been working on weekends.
“We’ve talked to the contractor for PennDOT, and we’re all prepared for (the air show traffic),” said Gabe Monzo, executive director of the Westmoreland County Airport Authority. “We appreciate PennDOT working with us, and Plum Contracting, and we’re all looking forward to a great show,” he said.
Monzo estimated about 80 percent of air show attendees arrive at the airport by turning onto Route 981 southbound from Route 30. He said those motorists will be admitted to the airport grounds through an alternate entrance just north of the PennDOT work zone and opposite a local discount store.
“They’ll come in the entrance across from Big Lots,” Monzo said. “The construction won’t affect them at all.”
Plum has been working to relocate underground water lines for the Latrobe Municipal Authority but is expected to shift its efforts to widening a section of Route 981 north of the main airport entrance and south of the headquarters of Kennametal.
The road will be broadened to three lanes, each 12 feet wide, with the central lane designated for left turns in either direction. The road’s shoulders also will be widened, to 8 feet, Pritts said.
As part of that widening work, a lane shift is set to begin the week of Memorial Day, with placement of a temporary concrete barrier along the right edge of the southbound lane.
Because of the planned widening, West Penn Power has erected a new series of utility poles along the stretch of road. Pritts said any work Verizon must complete to relocate its phone lines to the new poles will occur behind the barrier and should not affect traffic.
Pritts said construction of the roundabout also should have no effect on traffic because the highway has been diverted onto a temporary bypass around that area.
“The only impact might be if they’ve got a truck coming in and out of that work area,” he said.
A detour using Route 30 is anticipated in late summer or fall, when the widening work reaches the northern end of the project, according to PennDOT.
Estimated attendance at past county air shows has ranged between 75,000 and 100,000 when weather is ideal for the event, which is held rain or shine.
“We think this will be a banner year because of the tribute to Mr. Palmer,” Monzo said, referring to late Latrobe golf legend Arnold Palmer, a pilot who lent his name to the airport and chaired the airport authority.
This year’s show will feature a program and commemorative coin honoring Palmer and a display of his business jet and various memorabilia.
The show will include performances by the Navy’s Blue Angels aerobatics team and the Army’s Golden Knights parachute team. New this year, the airport is offering a VIP air show pass at a premium price. Monzo said last week about a fourth of the 400 available VIP spots had been reserved.
Monzo said there will be plenty of overflow parking available for air show attendees. Normally, parking at the airport is free, but a $5 fee during the air show benefits volunteer firefighters who direct motorists to open spaces.
Township supervisors have agreed to temporarily close some side roads in Unity near the airport in order to accommodate the air show.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6622, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @jhimler_news.