Planning for Route 30 Bypass reconstruction is under way
By Stone Lieberman
By NATALIE SMITH
Considering all the twists and turns it will take to make improvements to U.S. Route 30 in Chester County, PennDOT is seeking a partner in its decision-making: The public.
“The one thing I’d like them to know is we’re open and listening to their thoughts on the project,” said Tim Stevenson, the state Department of Transportation’s design portfolio manager of Engineering District 6-0.
Stevenson encouraged residents to go on the project’s website, www.us30-chesco.com, and examine the conceptual design alternatives for the $835 million reconstruction effort, then respond with questions, comments or ideas.
It’s been almost 60 years since the 14-mile corridor was built. More familiarly known as the Route 30 Bypass or the Coatesville-Downingtown Bypass, the highway passes through Coatesville, Downingtown, Caln, East Caln, Sadsbury, Valley, West Brandywine, West Caln and West Sadsbury. The transportation department has split the pending reconstruction project into eastern and western sections, with Reeceville Road being the dividing line.
All those years of traffic volume have taken their toll, and the number of vehicles is increasing. Stevenson said currently the bypass near Route 10 sees 20,000 cars a day, while at the Norwood Road and Route 113 ramps, it’s not uncommon to handle 75,000 vehicles daily.
“That section has more traffic on it than, say, the [Pennsylvania] Turnpike does where it goes through Chester County,” he said.
The motivation for the entire project is twofold. First, PennDOT says that a combination of increasing traffic volumes and aging and deteriorating road surfaces means the highway, as constructed, is beginning to show more signs of deficiencies. Regular travelers on the highway are aware of those deteriorating conditions.
Second, continued construction growth and population increases in the western part of Chester County, along the U.S. 30 corridor from PA Route 10 west toward Lancaster County, means that delays along the current highway are becoming more frequent and those delays can put a serious crimp in future economic development.
In the western section of the reconstruction effort, the current plan is for two lanes in each direction to remain at 12 feet wide, while shoulders will increase from 10 feet to 12 feet, and a median barrier will be installed.
On its website, PennDOT has identified five individual projects and the problems that it wants to address pertaining to U.S. 30.
In the western section:
· U.S. Business 30 and PA Route 10 – Problems identified are lack of safety, road conditions and congestion/growth. This project consists of a 1.7-mile corridor of U.S. 30 in Sadsbury and West Sadsbury, extending from about 1,250 feet west of Route 10 to about 1,000 feet east of the Old Mill Road overpass. This project is planned to include improvements to the Route 10 and Business Route 30 approaches to Route 30.
· Airport Road -- – Problems identified are, road conditions and congestion/growth. This project consists of a 3.9-mile corridor of Route 30 in Sadsbury, Valley, and West Caln, extending from about 1,000 feet east of the Old Mill Road overpass to about 950 feet east of the Wagontown Road overpass. This project will include improvements to the Route 30/Airport Road Interchange.
· PA Route 82 – – Problems identified are lack of safety, road conditions and congestion/growth. This project consists of a 2.1-mile corridor of Route 30 in Coatesville and Valley, extending from about 950 feet east of the Wagontown Road overpass to about 2,000 feet west of Reeceville Road. This project will include improvements to the Route 30/Route 82 Interchange and the Route 82/Route 340 intersection.
· On the eastern section of the U.S. 30 reconstruction project, from East Reeceville Road to Business Route 30/Quarry Road, the plan is for Route 30 to be bumped up to three, 12-foot lanes, 12-foot shoulders and a median barrier. Other interchanges affected include PA Route 340, U.S. Route 322 (Manor Avenue) and PA Route 113/Norwood Road.
· Improvements will also be made to the Intelligent Transportation System electronic displays.
PennDOT has had two public meetings this year, one in Wagontown and one in Downingtown. Stevenson said they were both well attended and people were responsive.
“We had a good representation of folks coming in asking questions and participating,” he said. “We had boards, displays of all the alternatives that are on the website. We had engineers explaining what the concepts were and how they'd operate.
“We’ve received a lot of comments relating to Norwood [Road in Downingtown] and [PA Route] 113. That's probably one of the areas that has the biggest change as far as how many lanes are going to be widened and what that construction would look like, as well as potentially eliminating the Norwood Road ramps,” Stevenson added.
“For example, the [Minquas Fire Company No. 2] moved from their headquarters, which used to be off of Business Route 30 in Downingtown. Now they're off [PA Route] 282. They weren’t interested in seeing the Norwood ramp go away because it would have affected their response time. Also, the people who live on both sides of [Route] 30 right there -- we had people suggest such things as using those moveable barriers that you see in the bridges over the Delaware River as a means of dealing with the widening in that area.
“The way technologies have changed, it's become a more viable opportunity to have our traffic management center flip a switch, that would start a truck, that would move a barrier -- that's a possibility, as compared to a decade or so ago,” Stevenson said.
“There's a situation where elimination of ramps causes consternation with those municipalities, and so we're going to continue to work to come up with a solution at that location.”
While the project development is in its first stage, Stevenson said they might be moving onto the next step in six months to a year.
“At which point, we'll have hopefully all our interchange alternatives and/or general alternatives identified, then we'll actually start the preliminary design process,” he said. “We've taken traffic counts, we've worked with the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission for traffic projections and so we're analyzing just how the highway would operate in our design year.”
When the project moves on to its preliminary design stage, there are many more aspects that must be investigated.
“There's a bunch of historic properties, parks that are adjacent to the roadway, streams and things along that line, or that cross the corridor,” he said. “So we'll be looking at when we reconstruct it, how we can minimize our impact to those resources. So beyond that, eventually after we've gotten through our preliminary design, one of the first things we will do in final design is to put together right-of-way acquisition drawings to acquire any properties that we need to construct the improvements. Then we would begin the conversation to acquire property from individuals, townships, parks -- as well as coordinating with utility companies about relocating their facilities that would be in conflict with our proposed construction activities.”
A timeline provided by PennDOT stresses that drivers will need to be patient. A project of this scale takes lots of planning, effort, money … and time.
Current time estimates of the project have work starting in the mid-2020s, when construction would begin on the western portion of the bypass (west of Reeceville Road).
“Then we do begin construction [there] it’s easier and simpler to advance the project because we're not having to contend with all the tight space issues we have to deal with further east,” he said.
The time frame takes into consideration the conceptual design phase [about two years]. The preliminary engineering and environmental evaluation [two to four years] and the final design segment [also, two to four years]. Once all those phases have been accomplished, construction can begin. It’s easy to see why planning is so important when you’re looking at a project that’s likely at least a decade away from completion.
It’s also important to note that, according to PennDOT, while planning is continuing on the U.S. 30 reconstruction project, other activities will be taking place on this stretch of highway, including median work and remediation. This work, along with resurfacing of pavement areas, will occur as part of necessary ongoing maintenance. These improvements are not related to the reconstruction projects.
Stevenson again underscored how PennDOT was encouraging people to look at the project alternatives and share their thoughts.
“We're open and listening to their thoughts about the project. Of course, they shouldn't expect to see the improvements in a year’s time, unfortunately. It’s not like new software that comes out every year; there can be an expectancy that we can deliver these changes quickly.
“Unfortunately, it's a longer process and people just need to be patient while we advance the project.
“I can't implore enough for people to provide comment and let us know what they're thinking. If they have a better mousetrap that would improve one of these interchanges to make it work better, we're open to hearing it.”
Natalie Smith may be contacted at DoubleSMedia@rocketmail.com.