Public input sought on Route 896 project
By J. Chambless
The intersection of Den Road (at right) and Route 896 is the site of an archeological dig. The rise in the roadway is slated to be removed to improve visibility of the intersection with Route 841, which is a few feet south.
By John Chambless
For people who live along a five-mile stretch of Route 896 -- or people who regularly drive the heavily-traveled road -- life is going to get more complicated as PennDOT finalizes its plans to repave and reconfigure the roadway. In an Aug. 20 letter to the Franklin Township Board of Supervisors, PennDOT estimated the start of construction would be in the fall of 2018.
Except for paving, Route 896 hasn't changed since it was a dirt track laid down for horses and wagons. The problem is that traffic now moves too quickly through intersections that were fine if you were riding horseback, but become hazardous when you're moving at 45 miles per hour. PennDOT has extensively studied the issues along the road, and improvements are sketched out from the intersection with Cobbler's Lane in the north to Chambers Rock Road in the south. Much of the major work is being proposed through Franklin Township, and Board of Supervisors chairman John Auerbach is well aware of the impending impact.
“There was talk in 2012 of improvements to Route 896, but I thought it would never happen,” Auerbach said during a phone interview on Nov. 2. “Well, surprisingly, the money has surfaced.”
Auerbach said he favors a couple of the points in the proposal, including the addition of a left-turn lane at Chambers Rock Road. “That's a real good item,” he said. “That's a tough intersection, with a lot of people turning left to go to Delaware.”
The two major points that he is dealing with are the intersection in the middle of Kemblesville, and the long-debated intersection of routes 896 and 841. First, in the heart of historic Kemblesville, “at the sharp turn at Appleton Road, the problem is that northbound traffic is too fast, leading to some conflicts there,” he said. “There's no land to do any decent expansion there, with the historic houses on either side. The only thing they can do is get a three-way stop. We support that. If you stop the traffic, then all the potential conflicts are at low speed, so we agree with that solution.
The larger problem, Auerbach said, is the point where Route 841 crosses Route 896, just a few feet south of a blind hill. “When you're heading south on 896, there's a hump in the road at Den Road. As you come south, you can't see the intersection. Larger trucks can't stop there,” he said. “The Historic Commission is having trouble with it,” Auerbach added. “There's that triangle patch of grass there. They're claiming that as a historic resource because it's part of the original layout of the village. I'm not going to comment on that.”
The intersection was the site of 24 reportable accidents from 2004 to 2009, and then a 2010 collision permanently injured a young woman, sparking widespread public demand for a traffic solution. Ultimately, a four-way stop was installed in 2012, with an additional southbound stop sign at Den Road for southbound traffic. There has been only one accident since that time, when a driver disregarded the stop sign on Route 841.
At the same time the stop sign plan was being implemented, PennDOT was proposing the Route 896 changes it wanted to make. As part of that plan, a 2012 federal ARLE (Automatic Red Light Enforcement) grant cleared the way for installation of a stop light at the intersection. The funding was for $184,000. Auerbach has spent the past three years telling PennDOT that the light isn't needed because the stop signs have solved the problem.
“We finally got them to back off on the traffic light, but they want to still put in turn lanes and not use them, in anticipation of someday adding a traffic light,” Auerbach said. “It seems like a waste of money to put in a light when you won't need one for a long time, if ever.”
PennDOT's position is that once the grant money has been awarded, it must be used as indicated. Auerbach has suggested the money could be spent on other traffic issues in the township, but PennDOT has responded that those other projects do not meet the requirements.
Part of the PennDOT plan for the intersection is removing the slight rise to the north of the intersection, so they are projecting that once that roadway is straightened and traffic can move more safely, the traffic light will become necessary.
A more immediate issue is the re-grading of the roadway, which will necessitate some widening of the banks on either side when the rise is scraped off. That directly affects the site of a former blacksmith shop that sits at the intersection with Den Road. A PennDOT-sponsored archeological dig over the summer indicated Native American and Euro-American artifacts could be at the site. Another complication is the farm owned by Dave Galligan that sits at the intersection. Removing the rise in the roadway will mean the end of his driveway will be lowered by about four feet, Auerbach said.
“He's not happy about it,” Auerbach said. “I've been in and out of that driveway and you almost scrape the bottom of your car now when you go in because it's so steep. There is a way to give him access to his property from 841, which would be a benefit to him. PennDOT would have to solve that problem. They can't leave him without a driveway.”
A homeowner across from the Galligan farm has also expressed displeasure with the road regrading, Auerbach said, fearing that it could lead to the loss of a row of evergreen trees on his property.
The PennDOT Route 896 Corridor Plan has suggested detouring traffic at several points in the construction process, and Auerbach has expressed some concern about sending additional traffic over the Hess Mill Bridge, which has a weight restriction of 17 tons. While large trucks would be prohibited from using the bridge, Auerbach is concerned that the heavy traffic volume alone would adversely affect the deteriorating bridge.
In short, “I don't really know what the scope of this project will be,” Auerbach said. “But it's going to be fairly extensive. That's why I'd like to get a big public turnout at the public meeting being held on Nov. 17. We're all trying really hard to get people to come out.”
The public meeting will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 17 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Cornerstone Presbyterian Church (109 Gypsy Hill Road and Route 896 in Landenberg). PennDOT will put the proposed plans on display. The safety improvements include intersection drainage improvements, roadway resurfacing, select utility pole replacement, pavement marking and signing upgrades, reconfiguration of Appleton Road at Route 896, and select areas of full-depth pavement reconstruction. These safety improvements will be presented to the public for comment, and there will be a question-and-answer session. Some background on the project is also posted at the Franklin Township website (www.franklintownship.us).
To contact Staff Writer John
Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.