PennDOT’s Route 41 plan draws mixed reactions from committee

posted Wed, Sep 6, 2006

Daily Local

By ANNE PICKERING

Some members complained about anti-development sentiment and nearly everyone agreed that capacity issues would be a problem in the not-too-distant future.

"The first meeting we had, we were told we had a six-month window to agree on some things and we should try to put our differences aside," said Rob Powelson, president of the Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry. "Some things we agreed on. We were supporting the bypass (in Avondale)."

But as time went on, Powelson said he thought the whole process became politically motivated and a group that was purely anti-development dominated the discussion.

"The intentions were good, but the whole process was cumbersome. I don’t think we have addressed the capacity issues," Powelson said.

The executive committee was formed by PennDOT in the spring of 2005 and included about 25 stakeholders, including representatives of the municipalities surrounding Route 41, local community groups, members of the mushroom and trucking industries, and state representatives. PennDOT has been studying the 9½-mile corridor from Route 926 to the Delaware state line since 1993.

At the last meeting of the executive committee on Aug. 23, PennDOT officials said they would focus on safety issues because there was no consensus on bypasses around Avondale and Chatham.

The highway department said it and its consultants had worked for months with Avondale to try to find a location for a bypass around the busy downtown area that would impact the least number of residents, but it was unsuccessful.

Avondale supported a bypass along the borough’s border and London Grove’s border. PennDOT is now reviewing accident data to determine where safety improvements such as turning lanes, traffic-calming devices and perhaps roundabouts could be built.

Jim Runk, president of the PA Motor Truck Association, a trade association for the trucking industry and a member of the executive committee, said he wasn’t dissatisfied with the way the executive committee worked.

The one thing the trucking industry is concerned about is roundabouts, he said. While they might work for automobiles, they are difficult for an 80,000-pound truck, he said.

Trucks have to wait for a chance to get around the circle and need a larger turning radius. Plus, cars try to beat trucks going around the circle, creating a hazard, Runk said. But he supported traffic-calming devices such as islands, particularly in Chatham, but not through the whole route.

Jerry Yeatman, of C.P. Yeatman & Sons, a fourth-generation mushroom grower, represented the mushroom and agriculture industry on the executive committee. He said he was very disappointed that the members couldn’t come up with a compromise that would allow a bypass.

Yeatman said the London Grove supervisors and the Avondale Borough Council shared equal blame because they couldn’t agree on where the bypass should go. As far as roundabouts go, "if a PennDOT engineer will tell me it will work for Route 41, then I’m for it," Yeatman said.

Tom Houghton, chairman of the London Grove Board of Supervisors and candidate for state representative in the 13th District, represented the township on the executive committee.

Houghton said he supported an Avondale bypass and was willing to allow 60 to 70 percent of a bypass proposed by PennDOT engineers last year to be placed in the township "as a good neighbor concession to Avondale. I knew I would take heat from some London Grove residents, but I knew it was in the best interests of all to make a compromise," he said.

Frank Parchen, chairman of the Kennett safety committee and a longtime resident, represented the township on the executive committee. At the last meeting, Parchen said PennDOT presented an analysis of all the traffic accidents on Route 41 over a five-year period, plotting out the hot spots The worst hot spot was the intersection of Baltimore Pike and Route 41, but Parchen said PennDOT is addressing that intersection as a separate project.

"I’ve always worried about safety on that road. My kids and grandkids travel on it. Capacity is not as much a concern," Parchen said, although he thought PennDOT will be back in 10 years to address capacity.

He marvelled at how planners in the past were able to build the Route 1 bypass. "What would we do today if they hadn’t built the Route 1 bypass? We’d be using the old Route 1," Parchen said, adding that a lot of people on the executive committee "could not bring themselves to look at the big picture."

State Sen. Dominic Pileggi, R-9th, of Chester, who also served on the executive committee, said he was glad that PennDOT was going to address safety issues but thought it was just a matter of time before capacity issues would arise. "The lack of ability to handle capacity is a safety issue in itself," he said.

To contact staff writer Anne Pickering, send an e-mail   

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