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Towamencin Submitting Road, Bridge Widening Projects to DVRPC Priority List

Tony Di Domizio

Thursday, June 12, 2014 • 4:09am

The delay of emergency responders and a Lansdale Hospital surgeon to rescue, and later amputate the leg of, a box truck driver who was trapped in a crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the Valley Forge Road overpass May 27—and the simultaneous traffic jam on Valley Forge Road—may end up being prime evidence that proves the following-through of a widening project at Valley Forge Road and Sumneytown Pike, engineered and designed around 2007, is desperately needed in Towamencin Township.

"To get a qualified surgeon there to do an amputation took some time," said Towamencin Supervisors Chairman and township Emergency Management Coordinator Dan Littley after Wednesday's meeting. "The initial time to get there to assess him and extricate him was complicated by the traffic backup. Where do you go on Valley Forge Road when they shut you down? You can't back up, you can't go forward." 

The details of that accident and the traffic nightmare, combined with the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission's "Plan X" emergency road closure procedures, are what Littley hopes will land the project on a priority list of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission's Fiscal Year 2015-2018 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) for Pennsylvania.

The public comment and submission period for the draft DVRPC program ends June 30. On June 26, the DVRPC will hold a public meeting and information session in Philadelphia. 

That is where Matt Johnston, of township traffic engineer Pennoni Associates, will listen to program details, comment on the TIP list, and present three road and bridge widening projects to the DVRPC.

In addition to the Valley Forge Road and Sumneytown Pike widening, supervisors have submitted the widening of the Bustard Road bridge near Fischer's Park, and the widening of a Forty Foot Road "bottleneck" near Heebner Way and SKF.

According to DVRPC's website, TIP is an agreed-upon list of priority projects required by the federal government, which gets updated biennially. The list details municipal projects that need federal funds, as well as regionally-significant, non-federally-funded projects. State-funded infrastructure improvements are also on the list. 

All projects promote multimodalism—bicycle and pedestrian elements are mixed with freight-related and air quality projects. 

"After our last meeting ... we had a long discussion about Plan X with the Turnpike. During rush hour, we had a truck go off the Turnpike, hanging off a bridge ... emergency vehicles coming from the Bustard Road station, Snyder Road station and Lansdale could not move through the intersection at Valley Forge and Sumneytown, because traffic was backed up and the road was shut down," Littley said at Wednesday's supervisors meeting. "Time was of the essence (to get rescue vehicles to the trapped driver on the bridge)."
 
"Everybody said it would never happen, and it happened," Littley said. "The road was shut down for four hours. The sooner we get personnel there, the sooner we can take care of it."
 
Littley said there were many questions posed to Johnston at a later meeting, but of most importance: Was there any coordination between the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and it building a larger capacity of traffic in the event of a "Plan X," as it would bump traffic at the Lansdale Interchange onto township roads?
 
"Should there be a control on the Turnpike and a build of this capacity without an equal build on arterials to accept that traffic?" he said. "Every time they have a Plan X, and people start yelling that they can't move, there's nothing we can do about it. This time, it was a man's life hanging in balance."
 
Plan X is the method the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission uses in cases like multiple-vehicle accidents that call for closing sections of the Turnpike and detouring traffic around the accident scene.

Littley said $1.3 million has been spent on designing, engineering and acquiring property for the widening of the Sumneytown/Valley Forge intersection.

The project proposes widening on Valley Forge Road between Anders Road and Snyder Road, and on Sumneytown Pike to Troxel Road.

"(The DVRPC) should look at what we did at Sumneytown and Valley Forge, and even break it up into smaller chunks. It's more shovel-ready than some shovel-ready projects I saw on the list," he said.

Littley said the issue is Valley Forge Road, Sumneytown Pike and Bustard Road are either state or county roads. The only Montgomery County road in the township is Sumneytown Pike, from Valley Forge to Forty Foot roads.

In the past, supervisors had met with DVRPC officials and even state representatives on the widening issues, but all pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

"We have the right to be heard; We’re not being heard out here. We're being ignored," Littley said. "We need traffic improvements, and we're talking giant state roads. These are not even Towamencin roads."

Littley said a widening of Valley Forge and Sumneytown would benefit North Penn High School traffic; even with a signal at the entrance, it doesn't help that there is no designated, official turn lane. The project would also call for stormwater management improvements at the intersection, which is prone to flooding out in a major rain event.

"We already acquired land from the high school, (Rite Aid) pharmacy and from the church (Calvary Baptist Church) so we can do these things," he said. "Because it's been so long, permits are expired and rules have changed."

Littley said Towamencin could never get federal dollars to complete the project.

"We were overcome by 422 and 202, and the Delaware Valley Region means Philadelphia, New Jersey and the bridges," Littley said. "These roads are not ours to touch."

Furthermore, Towamencin just doesn't have the money. 

"We don't have people building houses, so there are no traffic impact fees to pay for it," he said. 

Bond borrowing is out of the question.

"I don’t think there's a member (of the supervisors) sitting up there that wants to put a nickel of township money into it," he said.

The Bustard Road bridge, he said, is a "functionally-deficient" bridge.

"We want to replace and widen that bridge. We can do that right," he said. 

Littley is hoping for at least two out of three to make the TIP list. 

"These are economic corridors," he said, "not only for Merck, but for places like Lansdale, Hatfield, North Wales, and even Valley Forge Road into King of Prussia."

He said the Turnpike Commission continues to widen, and Plan X continues to mar traffic.

"When they put Plan X, everything south, below the Interchange, comes to Towamencin. Now you have three lanes going south to one lane," he said. "Twenty pounds in a 5-pound bag just doesn't work." 

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