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Upper Gwynedd Residents to PA Turnpike: Berms? NIMBY

Tuesday, April 29, 2014 • 4:40pm

UPPER GWYNEDD, Pa. - Ma, put on the decaf—the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is coming to Tricorn Drive.

Representatives from PTC—as well as those from the management and engineering teams in place for the widening of the Northeast Extension to six lanes from milepost A26 to A31—will soon be meeting with some residents of Tricorn Drive in Upper Gwynedd Township to review designs and plans for construction of earth berms, and walk and review property line stakings in their backyards. Their yards back up to the Pennsylvania Turnpike, with the neighborhood located off Morris Road.

Mimi Doyle, public relations manager for PTC, was at the Upper Gwynedd Township Commissioners meeting Monday night, along with Bill Muzika, project manager of contractor Allan A. Myers in Worcester Township; Jim Au, of construction management and environmental services firm McTish, Kunkel & Associates of Allentown; and Ira Luke and Joe Serbu, P.E., of PTC's engineering group.

There, Doyle and company gave a presentation on its construction schedule for the northern section of the extension's expansion project it is responsible for, from one mile north of the Lansdale Interchange to about four miles south of the Lansdale Interchange at Bethel Road. In all, the commission is widening 11 miles from Mid-County to Lansdale Interchange to six lanes.

An open house on the project is set for May 14 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Towamencin Fire Co. on Bustard Road.

Tricorn Drive residents were at the meeting Monday night as well, concerned over the close proximity of PTC right-of-way stakes to their homes. A few claimed they have always mowed those right-of-ways and paid taxes on them.

A handful of residents also complained that, since a meeting in May 2013, the PTC has never sent them detailed plans of proposed berms along the right-of-ways to separate the turnpike from their properties, or proposed swales or ponds.

Township Manager Len Perrone said there is about 3,500 feet of property affected in the township, between Morris Road and Valley Forge Road.

These same residents also were against the proposed height of the berms, in excess of 30 feet, one resident said, and preferred 14-foot sound walls instead.

“There was no vote taken on whether we wanted a wall or a berm,” said one resident who did not wish to give his name.

“A berm is a major change in the construction initiative,” said another resident.

“Would you like to have that behind your house?” said resident Mark Methlie to Doyle.

One resident said the reason for 25 miles of highway with sound walls and then earth berms is cost savings.

“It doesn’t cost much to put up a berm,” he said. “We’re going to have to look at this monolith for the rest of our time.”

Doyle said the reason for the berms is the turnpike owns the property and doesn’t have to take ownership of land from residents.

“We are not putting it there for no other reason than we own the land,” she said.

One resident said anyone with a pool should just fill it in.

“Our pool costs will go up three times as much, as we try to keep phosphates out and dust,” he said. “It’s going to kill us. We will not be able to keep it clean.”

Upper Gwynedd Township Commissioners Chairman Kenneth Kroberger requested Doyle and the engineering and management firms to meet with residents to iron out details of the project.

“I don’t know the design of the project. Just because they stake the property doesn’t mean that is necessarily where the berm starts,” Kroberger said. “They are just staking their property. It is important to give residents an idea of what activity will take place behind their house.”

Kroberger added, “If you did not own the property, then you do not pay taxes on it.”

Serbu said the turnpike commission has a large piece of surplus property along that stretch of homes.

“A lot of adjacent landowners have some permanent structures on turnpike property,” he said. “We have pushed back the limit of work to accommodate folks. We try to work with our adjacent neighbors.”

Au added that McTish, Kunkel and Associates have “a good name and we want to keep it that way.”

“We want to conduct the project in a safe and efficient manner,” said Au. “We’re glad to work with you folks.”

On Thursday, Allan A. Myers plans to begin staging and preliminary work for the widening project at the Lansdale Interchange in Towamencin. 

“They are a very good contractor. This is a very good team,” said Au. “We will work together to get the job done. I look forward to working with them.”

Muzika said they would be reconstructing eight bridges, including Berks Road and Bustard Road. Bustard Road, he said, will be closed on July 12 between Forty Foot Road and Rittenhouse Road. It will reopen May 15, 2015. Allan Myers will construct an access road down Towamencin Township property to the turnpike for emergency personnel, he said.

“We’re cutting off quite a bit of access,” Muzika said.

By May 12, there will be barriers in place on the turnpike to restrict traffic to two 12-foot lanes. Tractor trailers will be restricted to left lane only during construction of new shoulders.

He said there would be temporary stormwater basins constructed for stormwater management; once soil is stabilized, then they would be converted to permanent detention basins.

Muzika said the project must be done by November 2016.

Muzika said the management team is obligated to stay in touch with emergency services personnel throughout the duration of the project.

Doyle said the commission has a “very aggressive public outreach plan.”

“As work progresses over the summer, we will be sending out construction updates weekly,” she said.

As far as construction truck traffic on Tricorn Drive, Muzika said they are looking at options on how to stay on commission property and access the project only from commission property.

“Our subcontractors are under control by us. If they are caught off the route, they are not allowed on the job,” Muzika said. “If they want to make a living, they play by our rules.”

Muzika estimated in excess of 250 workers on the turnpike job.

“We would like no interaction with our employees. They are there to do a job,” he told residents.

After the meeting, Methlie provided TAP with a timeline of his communication with the turnpike commission. He said he was told in 2011 that there would be a 14-foot-high sound wall behind his house on the right-of-way. He said he had been mowing the right-of-way since 1975 and was told “verbally” that he is responsible for the right-of-way as landowners.

Methlie said he was told there would be removal of vegetation more than 25 feet from his property line and replaced with a 25- to 30-foot tall berm.

In November 2013, Methlie said he received notice from PTC counsel to remove all property from the turnpike right-of-way.

“The property I have maintained at the PTC request for more than 35 years,” he said.

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