Reflecting a growing trend of soliciting  public input early in road projects, Pennsylvania Dept. of Transportation officials have adopted an alternative plan proposed by a retired electronics engineer and revamped the alignment of Pittsburgh’s Route 28 to save a historic century-old church—and about $60 million off the $200-million estimated cost.

PennDOT officials are gearing up for final design this fall, with construction slated for 2009. Plans for building a new four-lane segment of Rt. 28, which runs along the Allegheny River, initially included excavating part of a hillside and demolishing the first Croatian church in the U.S. But in 2003, retired engineer George R. White submitted a plan on behalf of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation board, says foundation President Arthur Zeigler. “The plan has been largely adopted,” he says.

The new design calls for half of the 2.25-mile road to run alongside railroad tracks beside the river. Norfolk Southern Railroad will move 5,000 ft of track to accommodate the change, says Dan Cessna, executive director of PennDOT District 11.

The new plan, combined with two legislative bills allowing counties to reclaim unused railroad land, also convinced Nor-folk Southern to cede to PennDOT a 10-ft-wide strip of land to be used for reconfiguring.

The preservationists received advice from PennDOT officials, including then-district engineer Ray Hack and then-traffic engineer Tom Fox, White says. “Ray and Tom advised us that if we got sponsorship of the legislation, the railroad would change its tune,” White says. “We enlisted the help of legislators, and that induced Norfolk Southern to negotiate.”