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Chester County Press

Kennett Greenway receives $1.47 million in grant funding

12/01/2021 10:42AM ● By Richard Gaw

Photo by Richard L. Gaw         Birch Street in Kennett Square -- a part of the expanding Kennett Greenway -- will undergo an extensive upgrade that will include road repair and beautification, thanks to a $1.471 million grant received by the Commonwealth Financing Authority.

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

The Magnolia Underpass and Birch Street in Kennett Square – two major connectors of the 14-mile Kennett Greenway -- will be developed, thanks to a $1.471 million grant received by the Commonwealth Financing Authority’s Multimodal Transportation Fund (MTF) on Nov. 19.

Scheduled to begin design, engineering and permitting in 2022 and construction in 2023 and 2024, these projects will form two significant and complementary segments of the Kennett Greenway through the creation of a “complete street” along Birch Street in the Borough of Kennett Square, and the construction of a railroad underpass in Kennett Township.

These projects will be the latest steps in an initiative to connect Kennett Township, Kennett Square Borough, East Marlborough Township, New Garden Township and parts of the northwestern portion of Delaware by way of pedestrian and bicycle trails. The trail network that links Kennett’s preserved open spaces, recreational facilities, and other community assets has been advanced through a phased approach, with strong community support, local government cooperation and county and state elected advocacy.

Creating beauty, connection and experience

The Birch Street Streetscape portion of the project will address stormwater issues along Birch Street, including the implementation of stormwater best management practices and roadway reconstruction, and will promote alternatives to traditional vehicular travel through the installation of new sidewalks, ADA curbs and ramps, crosswalks and appropriate signage.

“There is of course the issue of repairing the roads, but in a larger sense, it is asking, ‘How do we make the streetscape not just engineered properly, but actually a place of beauty?’” said Mike Bontrager of Square Roots Collective, which helped spearhead the community collaboration behind the grant. “It will not just be a case of making the road work, but of creating the experience of being able to walk on the Kennett Greenway on Birch Street, in order to access these community assets.”

Bontrager doesn’t believe that the revamped street – that may very likely draw more businesses and subsequently larger attendance – will require additional parking. Instead, he called upon the community to create a communal solution. 

Square Roots Collective operations lead Luke Zubrod said that incorporating space for more vehicles is contrary to what makes a town “delightful” and walkable.

“The Kennett Greenway’s position has been to create this community as a place for people to walk, and I think the parking aspect is integral to that,” Zubrod said. “American towns were built around the automobile, and The Greenway is focused on turning that dial to say, ‘How do we build a town that is walkable and built around the person?’ The more parking requirements we have, the farther away the buildings are and the more you need cars to get to places.”

The proposed construction of the Magnolia Underpass will cross beneath the East Penn Railway and provide a long-awaited bike and pedestrian “gateway” connection between the township and borough trails.

The underpass will be constructed from a pre-fabricated tube that will be installed beneath the railroad and extend from Pennock Park to a property currently owned by Kennett Business Park, LP. It will have sufficient lighting and safety measures in place.

“The Magnolia Underpass will be critical to connecting Kennett Borough and Kennett Township,” said Christina Norland, executive director of the Kennett Trails Alliance. “East Penn Railroad runs east to west and divides the borough north and south, and right now, there is no easy way for the residents of either the borough or the township to access the amenities of the borough or the open space in the township.

“Between the creation of the underpass and a new trail portion, residents will be able to get from the borough all the way down to Chandler Mill Preserve once it is completed – a distance of about three miles.”

The MTF grant will complement $400,000 in previous MTF grant funding awarded to the project earlier this year, as well as a $500,000 grant awarded to the project by the county’s Department of Community Development. In addition, Square Roots Collective will contribute up to $250,000 to the development of these projects.

Earlier this month, Kennett Township, in collaboration with Kennett Square Borough, East Marlborough Township and Longwood Gardens received grant funding through the Chester County Vision Partnerships Program to advance a trail feasibility study to further regional connectivity. The study will determine the viability of several bicycle and pedestrian connections from the Kennett Square area to Longwood Gardens, laying the additional groundwork necessary for implementation and construction of new multimodal infrastructure that will support active transportation in the greater Kennett region.

Project receives support from elected officials

During its application process, the grant was helped along with advocacy and letters of support from Sen. John Kane, Rep. Craig Williams, Rep. Christina Sappey and the Chester County Board of Commissioners.

“The proposed project will enhance multimodal transportation infrastructure by providing an inclusive network, connecting Kennett residents to the area’s natural beauty while providing access to everyday destinations,” Kane wrote in his July 7 letter of appeal to state Democratic leader Jay Costa and Vincent Hughes, Senate appropriations chairman. “It will also further promote ongoing economic and community revitalization efforts throughout the region.”

“[Kennett] Borough and [Kennett] Township are currently divided by the East Penn Railway, which effectively separates pedestrians from community destinations,” Williams wrote in his July 6 letter to State Reps. Bryan Cutler, Kerry Benninghoff and Stan Saylor. “The Magnolia Underpass will cross beneath the East Penn Railway, along the west branch of the Red Clay Creek, to provide a long-awaited bike and pedestrian connection between the township and the borough’s trail systems. The 750 linear foot underpass will eliminate the physical barrier that prevents community members from easily and safely accessing both sides of the rail tracks – connecting people to neighborhoods, community restaurants, parks, businesses, workplaces and recreation.”

“I’m thrilled that this funding has been approved to support outstanding local projects,” Sappey said. “These grants increase safety and traffic flow, connect communities by trail, conserve open space and provide recreation opportunities. I was pleased to support these applications for funding and look forward to seeing the results.”

Additional supporters

In addition, letters in support of grant funding came from over one dozen local businesses and agencies that included the Kennett Consolidated School District, the Kennett Area Park and Recreation Board, the Kennett Township Trails and Sidewalks Committee, the Kennett Trails Alliance, New Garden Township, the YMCA of Greater Brandywine, Friends of the New Garden Trails, Historic Kennett Square (now Kennett Collaborative), Bike Kennett, The Commonwealth Group, West Branch Distilling Co., Kennett Square Realty, Kennett Business Park, Square Roots Collective, The Creamery of Kennett Square, The worKS, The Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County, South Mill Champs, Braeloch Brewing, and Montchanin Builders.

“Connectivity actually starts with all of us talking with each other and being collaborative,” Norland said. “Square Roots Collective is so grateful for the public and private partnerships that have been forged to secure additional funding needed to advance multimodal transportation in our community.

“The Kennett Greenway is a transformational project that promotes inclusivity, health, safety, and environmental stewardship and contributes to the thriving of all members of our community.”

“This is an important win for the community and it took collaboration to get this done,” Bontrager added. “We are always looking for local partners to make Kennett Square a better place to live and work.”

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email .