Penn intersection improvements begin
● By Steven Hoffman
Work has officially begun on a $2.5 million project to improve and realign the intersection of state Route 796 and West Baltimore Pike near the site of the former Red Rose Inn in Penn Township.
On Monday morning, Penn Township officials welcomed numerous state and local dignitaries, along with representatives from PennDOT, McMahon Associates, RoadCon and the Pennsylvania State Police for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the start of the much-needed project.
Curtis Mason, the chairman of the Penn Township Board of Supervisors, was elated that the project has finally reached the point where improvements to the heavily travelled intersection are underway.
“This is great,” Mason said. “For the growth that we have, this project is a must.”
As traffic has increased in the area, the intersection has become not only an annoyance for motorists—it ranks among the least efficient intersections in Pennsylvania—there were also safety issues because of the alignment of the road and the high volume of the traffic, especially during peak hours.
Mason said that the intersection has been an issue since he joined the Board of Supervisors more than 21 years ago, and the supervisors were all determined to find a solution that would address the traffic congestion.
He explained that the township purchased the Red Rose Inn building seven years ago not only because it was a way to preserve an important part of township history, but because it also allowed for traffic-calming measures to be undertaken for the nearby intersection. After the township purchased the Red Rose Inn, modifications were made to the non-historic additions that had been made to the building through the years to make way for the realignment of Route 796. The original historic part of the Inn will remain intact and is being carefully refurbished.
The new design for the intersection will realign Route 796 and add turning lanes on both roads to alleviate the current traffic congestion. Improving the flow of traffic through the main intersection of the township should also help boost the local economy by allowing easier access to local businesses and open up access to additional nearby sites for potential commercial development.
Mason said that the long process to reach this point in the project was well worth it. He thanked both State Sen. Andrew Dinniman and State Rep. John Lawrence, who worked together in the spirit of bipartisanship to secure $275,000 in state funding to improve the intersection.
Mason said that the project would not have been possible without the assistance of Dinniman and Lawrence.
The project will be partially funded by PennDOT and a Commonwealth Financing Authority Multi-Modal grant. Penn Township will only be paying about $1.25 million of the total project costs. Penn Township adopted an ordinance last year establishing a traffic impact fee on any new commercial or residential developments or projects that create a traffic impact within designated transportation service areas in the township. The revenues generated from those fees will be used to help cover the expenses for any road improvements that might be necessary as a result of the developments.
State Rep. John Lawrence was one of the speakers at the event. He talked about the importance of the project to local residents and people who work in the township.
“This is an historic day,” said Lawrence. He recalled a meeting that he had with PennDOT officials about 7 or 8 years ago. When he raised the subject of the intersection, and the possibility of making the necessary improvements, the officials said that it would take about 20 years for the Penn Township intersection to reach the top of the list of projects.
“That was not accptable,” Lawrence said. “So a large group of people came together, and there were more meetings. We got the intersection prioritized for the residents of southern Chester County.”
Dinniman wasn't able to be the ribbon-cutting ceremony, but he, too, was very pleased that the intersection improvements are about to be made.
“This project has been a long time coming but we’re finally here and we did it by working together for the good and economic well-being of the community, not to mention the safety of the many motorists and commuters who use this vital thoroughfare each day,” Dinniman said in a statement. “The new intersection will have a significant, positive impact on not just Penn Township, but southern Chester County.”
Pennsylvania State Police Lieutenant Michelle Swantner said that they are very supportive of projects like this one that can help improve safety on heavily traveled roadways.
“We appreciate all the hard work that went into making this happen,” Swantner said.
McMahon Associates is the township’s project manager and design and construction engineer for the intersection.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Sean Hughes, the construction superintendent from McMahon Associates, provided an overview of the project.
The work will be completed in four phases between now and the end of July. At this point, no detours or road closures are expected to be necessary. If lane closures do occur, there will be flaggers to facilitate traffic flow.
In addition to the roads being widened and the turning lanes being added, a new traffic signal will be intalled with updated signal phasing. The last phase of the project includes the paving of the roads. Because the intersection is a busy one, the mill work and overlay work might be completed at night, but that hasn't been decided yet.
While there may be minor inconveniences on occasion, officials were optimistic that the resulting improvements will be well worth it.
“It's going to be a nice, finished project when it's done,” said Stephen C. Giampaolo, the Regional Highway Design Service Leader with McMahon Associates. He said that when the design plans for the project were being developed, they factored in the needs of the intersection for the next 20 years so these improvements will make a difference for a long time to come.