Franklin Township residents examine PennDOT plans for Route 896 improvements
● By J. Chambless
A resident asks a question at the PennDOT meeting on Nov. 17.
By John Chambless
Everyone who lives along Route 896 has their own pet peeve about the roadway, and PennDOT representatives heard just about every one of them at a public meeting on Nov. 17.
The informational meeting drew a large crowd of Franklin Township residents who examined a huge map of the proposed five-mile stretch of repaving and realignments on the road. The project stretches from the Newark Road intersection in the north to the intersection with Chambers Rock Road in the south. Three townships are affected by the proposal – Franklin, London Britain and New London.
At this point, plans for the $6 million construction project are still fluid, but the meeting was the first chance many in the audience had to see what the plans involve.
The road's problems include numerous horizontal curves and vertical curves, which are spots where the road turns on a hill, obscuring visibility. The speed limit is posted at 45 miles per hour outside of Kemblesville, but is frequently ignored. Roads that intersect Route 896 have blind spots, particularly the intersection with Route 841, which was the focus of much discussion. Elwood Kimmel, a consultant project manager, said traffic studies ran from 2006 to 2009, and 100 percent federal funding was secured for the project “because the accident rate along Route 896 is two to three times higher than the state average,” he said.
Kimmel clarified that a PennDOT “warrant” means a set of criteria that are required for adding an improvement to a roadway. The warrant is based on statistics and other considerations, and the warrant for the Route 841 intersection calls for, among other things, a traffic light to eventually be installed there.
Franklin Township supervisor John Auerbach, who attended the meeting, has pointed out that the Route 841 intersection has long had problems that resulted in many crashes and one serious injury that led to the installation of a four-way stop. That solution, combined with a southbound stop sign at the intersection with Den Road just to the north, has eliminated accidents at the intersection, Auerbach said.
Kimmel agreed, saying that he had received statements from township officials and the public that the problem had been eliminated, but he maintained that the PennDOT plan includes not only shaving off the hill to the north of the intersection, but also adding pavement that is intended to eventually be turn lanes when a traffic light is installed. Kimmel said the plan, at this point, is to keep the four-way stop since it's working, but to lay the groundwork for PennDOT's warrant for the intersection.
Auerbach said a petition to keep the four-way stop has been signed by 536 residents who do not want a traffic signal. Other ideas for the intersection on PennDOT's list include going back to a two-way stop, which Auerbach said “is almost insulting. In the past three years, there have been virtually no accidents there,” he said. “It's been incredibly successful. The reason is that everybody stops, so that if anyone makes a mistake, it's at low speed, so it's a bump, not a crash.”
Dave Galligan, whose farm sits at the intersection, said, “I have lived there for 19 years. The accident rate has gone to virtually zero. How do you improve upon zero? I predict that if you do put in turn lanes, it'll be a disaster. When drivers see a green light, it'll be pedal to the metal.”
Kimmel responded that he sees the evidence, but that PennDOT is adhering to its warrant, and the warrant calls for a light.
Galligan asked, “Is there a process in which PennDOT re-evaluates data? Your data is from 2006 to 2009, which is not when we had the four-way stop in place. There have been no accidents there recently.”
Kimmel answered, “That's a valid point.”
The other main sticking point is the reconfiguration of Route 896 and Appleton Road in the heart of Kemblesville. PennDOT is recommending realigning it as a T-shaped intersection and installing an all-way stop, along with a painted brick island.
Paul Lagasse of the township's Historical Commission voiced several concerns to Kimmel about that plan, including, “You seem to be making racetrack improvements to Route 896, and allowing people to drive like missiles because they feel they now have better control.”
Lagasse objects to losing the grassy patch at the Appleton Road intersection, which has remained unchanged since the village's founding. Kimmel said that studies indicated that trucks making the turn at the reconfigured intersection will have to drive over the island, and that brick is a more durable alternative than dirt and grass, which would be rutted and damaged.
“You're converting the place to a parking-lot atmosphere with yellow lines and pavement,” Lagasse said. “You're in a historic district.”
There was also concern from nearby homeowners that trucks stopping in the middle of Kemblesville will have to shift gears and use their brakes, creating more noise and backing up traffic.
Kimmel said the overall improvements slated for 896 include paving the entire corridor, banking the curves, providing a minimum of a four-foot shoulder and relocating utility poles at some locations, installing rumble strips along the edge of the road, improving markings and trimming trees. Spot improvements include adding a left turn lane at Hess Mill Road, lowering the vertical crest curve south of Hess Mill Road, reconstructing the horizontal curve north of Pennbrook/Walnut Glen Road, improving drainage at Den Road and removing the stop signs at Den Road, putting in a pull-off area for State Police south of the Route 841 intersection, improving drainage at Parsons Road, and realigning 896 north of Good Hope Road.
While Auerbach said many of the improvements will be welcome, residents and Kimmel agreed that speed is a primary problem. “More of a police presence might be a good idea,” Kimmel suggested. “You have to get a reputation that 'You do not speed through Kemblesville.'”
Suggestions of adding traffic-calming brick islands were not part of the PennDOT plan, Kimmel said, since they stray outside the mandate to reduce traffic accidents.
At this stage, Kimmel said, the target date for the completing the preliminary design is the autumn of 2016, beginning negotiations for right-of-way purchases from homeowners in the winter of 2017, and the completion of the final design in the winter of 2019. Construction could begin in the summer of 2019 and last until the summer of 2021. There will be spot detours along the way where the roadway is being dug up and rebuilt, but detours should last no more than two or three weeks at a time, Kimmel said.
As public comments became more heated, PennDOT consultant project manager Bruce Masi told the audience that “We'll address your questions and go back and look at the designs. We have meetings with officials in all three townships, and the public can attend those. We will provide another set of plans and show them to the public in perhaps six months.”
Updates on the project as it relates to Franklin Township are posted on the township's website (www.franklintownship.us).
To contact Staff Writer John
Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.