Editorial: The Mighty River and its many tributaries
● By Richard Gaw
Just as she has done so nearly every morning for the last decade, the woman drives her foreign vehicle along the quiet, country roads of southern Chester County. Although her route takes a few more minutes to get to her office, she avoids the outdated, excessively clogged minor highways that jut off of Route 1 in all directions. Her choice never fails to give her at least one small moment of beauty, whether she sees the light green whisper of growth in the trees in spring, the way the summer sun hits her windshield around a particular bend, the red and orange burnish of fall or the still starkness of the winter woods. They are a visual and constant love letter to the decision she and her husband made years ago to raise their children here, in a tiny hamlet that seems gloriously tucked back in time.
At the same moment, just as he has done so for the last few weeks as a method of circumventing the morning traffic along a tributary road near Route 1, a truck driver hauls his rig through the back roads of southern Chester County. It's quicker to my destination, he thinks, and really, few like him can find fault with his choice. Drivers, much like water, seek the pathways of least resistance, and although he has interrupted tranquility and invaded the pastoral, time is money.
On this morning, he makes that shaky turn to the right on a road dusted with rusty leaves, at the same moment the woman in the foreign vehicle reaches the turn from the other direction, along the narrow road...
On Oct. 27, more than 100 leaders of local business, government and education gathered to hear the progress of the Route 1 Economic Development Initiative, at the Technical College High School in West Grove. For more than an hour, representatives from the Initiative spelled out a grand vision for the corridor, one that began with the Landscapes2 comprehensive plan, an economic growth concept that attempts to meld both commerce and conservation, together. The details of each presentation – from land development to conservation to economic opportunity – were clear and concise, and gave leverage to a long-term plan that everyone associated with the Initiative, as well as those in attendance at the presentation, will be able to wrap their support around.
If there was one shortcoming of the Oct. 27 presentation, however, it was that its narrative looked at Route 1 as if it were the Mighty River -- the healing, miracle waters that will pour through township after township, municipality after municipality, and save the day for both commerce and conservation. The presentation, for all of its broad-based vision, did not fully take into consideration that in order for a mighty river to flow, it must rely on the velocity, capacity and strength of its connecting streams.
Translated, the highways that feed into Route 1 – Gap-Newport Pike, Route 10 and Route 796, to name a few – are representative of the lifeblood tributaries that every economic plan needs in order to succeed. They connect workers to commerce and consumers to products, in a continual flow, but right now, as any municipality from Chadds Ford to Nottingham will readily admit, the infrastructure of these roads have become outdated obstacles to opportunity. It is hard to imagine that the current state of the Gap-Newport Pike, for instance, would be attractive to any potential tenant looking to set up a business along Route 1. For years, New Garden Township's elected officials have imagined the area of Newark Road near the New Garden Flying Field as a perfect location for medium-sized businesses, but the ugly truth, and possible inhibitor, from this dream becoming a reality is that Newark Road is not only insufficient for steady truck volume, it intersects with Baltimore Pike, arguably the largest transportation eyesore in southern Chester County.
The problem does not end there. Every day, just like the driver mentioned earlier in this essay, there are hundreds of freight tucks and vehicles who jam up these cranky main thoroughfares, and by doing so, are turning the back roads of southern Chester County into little highways, at great risk to our safety and our rural way of life.
In the last few years, some light has been seen at the end of the tunnel.
The 2015 Transportation Improvements Inventory, issued by the Chester County Planning Commission, identifies 517 projects in the county -- major corridors, bridges and roadways -- that are in need of repair. On Nov. 25, 2013, House Bill 1060 was signed into law, creating Act 89, Pennsylvania’s most comprehensive piece of state transportation legislation in decades. Over the next five years, the state will invest $2.4 billion into state transportation improvements to 5,000 state-owned road miles and 660 bridges.
It's a grand gesture toward the promise of improvements, but one that tells Chester County to get in line with all of the other counties in the Commonwealth.
In the end, the visions of growth outlined in the Landscapes2 plan and the Route 1 Economic Development Initiative lay in wait. For all of their ideas that envision a county where commerce and conservation intersect, they are the owners of a meaningless timepiece. The future of everything is on PennDOT's watch, while a woman in her foreign car swerves to miss a truck on a country road, and crumbling tributaries fail to adequately feed their waters to the Big River.