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Chester County Press

Townships sign on to Route 41 improvement study

05/03/2022 03:56PM ● By Richard Gaw

Photo by Richard L. Gaw          While four townships have fully committed to participating in a traffic study for Route 41, Avondale Borough is against the idea of placing a roundabout along State Road and Route 41 in the borough.

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

In July 2021, New Garden Township played host to several key local stakeholders to discuss solutions to what has become for many residents in southern Chester County a ten-mile misery index, one that stretches from the tip of Kennett Township to Londonderry Township and bottles their lives up with endless traffic.

It is the Route 41 corridor.

Organized by State Representatives John Lawrence and Christina Sappey and State Senator Carolyn Comitta, the summit invited officials from several municipalities, PennDOT, the Chester County Planning Commission and the local conservation group Safety, Agriculture, Villages & Environment (S.A.V.E.) to explore options.

On the advice of Chester County Planning Commission Executive Director Brian O’Leary, it was proposed that the townships sign on to file an application for the county’s Vision Partnership Program (VPP). Established by the Chester County Board of Commissioners in 1996, the VPP provides grant money to county municipalities and multi-municipal groups that wish to improve their planning programs in accordance with Landscapes3, the county’s long-term comprehensive plan. The VPP gives municipalities the initial funding to plan projects that address opportunities and issues of community concern.

The application, authored last September by S.A.V.E. and London Grove Township Manager Ken Battin, was recently given the green light by the Planning Commission and will bring together Londonderry, London Grove, New Garden and Kennett townships in a partnership that will use a $45,000 grant from the county – and also include additional funds from each township – to develop a long-range plan to explore methods of reducing traffic along the corridor.

As stated in the application, the study – which will be conducted by the Chester County engineering firm McMahon Associates and begin this spring -- will “form the basis for ensuing discussions with the goal of synthesizing a regional consensus vision for the roadway.”

The 18-month project will include a kick-off meeting, vision meetings with the general public, the development of conceptual traffic engineering improvements, the completion of a draft and a final study, that will provide a blueprint to assist the municipalities, county and PennDOT to achieve a sustainable solution for the corridor.

“We [entered into the application] from a perspective that we felt had not been approached before,” said Lou Kaplan, secretary on S.A.V.E.’s board of directors. “Even though there had been numerous studies on Route 41 before, each municipality had their own vision – codified in their own comprehensive plans – and the county had its own vision in its Landscapes3 – but there was no regional perspective that bridged those varying plans. This is an attempt to have the municipalities begin to work together to build a regional vision that they could all agree to.”

Avondale Borough: No roundabouts

While Londonderry, London Grove, New Garden and Kennett townships have each signed on to work together, one key municipality along the corridor – Avondale Borough -- has agreed in principle to participating in the study, with one large stipulation.

On Oct. 19, 2021, the previous Avondale Borough Council passed a resolution stating that while it agreed that the traffic issues along the corridor and through the borough needed to be addressed, they agreed that “the only viable and long-term solution” to calming traffic would be the addition of a “bypass around the town of Avondale outside the boundaries of Avondale.”

The resolution further stated that the borough council remained unconvinced that a roundabout or a widening of Pennsylvania Avenue will resolve traffic issues in the borough.
“Such traffic issues would only hurt the borough,” the resolution stated.

Instead, the council supported various traffic improvements such as bridge replacements, the retiming of traffic lights, and the installation of traffic islands and no parking islands as measures that along with a bypass would improve traffic flow through the borough.

Kaplan and S.A.V.E.’s Executive Director George Hundt recently met with the current Avondale Borough Council in the hopes that the borough would fully commit to being a part of the study, but the council would not budge on the idea of a roundabout on State Road and Route 41.

“Although the resolution was passed by the former council, it seems to reflect the feelings of the current council, which is frustrating for those of us who are trying to find a solution and get the study in the works,” Hundt said. “London Grove Township is showing leadership in spearheading the application but also being willing to understand the position of Avondale and reach out to the borough council, but I do not get the sense that there has been any reciprocity from the borough council.”

“I think part of their reaction is that they know the current situation along Route 41 is a bad one and it’s only going to get worse, so they are going to have to do something,” Kaplan said. “I think that decision is going to be a difficult one and it may not be a popular one, and that’s not an easy thing for a board to come to grips with.”

New Avondale Mayor Susan Rzucidlo said that while the borough is committed to working with the other four municipalities on the study – at the request of the County Planning Commission -- borough officials remain steadfast that they are not willing to budge on the idea of a roundabout in the borough.

“We are very open to being part of the regional discussion, but we are not open to a roundabout, because that tears out our entire downtown and takes down an historic building,” she said. “We don’t want to give up the right of the borough to manage their own business and what’s right for our community, but we are happy to meet with other townships.”

While the roundabout at Route 41 and Route 926 in Londonderry Township is nearing completion, the idea of creating additional roundabouts along the corridor continues to draw discussion.

On Oct. 26, 2020, Wisconsin roundabout engineer Mark T. Johnson gave an online presentation that re-imagined the county’s most-traveled two-lane road divided by a series of roundabouts each intended to create a well-functioning stretch of infrastructure: Roundabouts at the Route 41-Route 1 intersections in London Grove Township; roundabouts at the corner of Sunny Dell Road and near the former Mr. Mulch, both in Landenberg; and two roundabouts at the Limestone Road (Route 7) – Route 41 Interchange near the Delaware border.

At the request of S.A.V.E., Johnson also designed a roundabout at State Road and Route 41. Critics of the concept among elected officials in Avondale Borough said that a roundabout would permanently change the borough’s historical features, negatively impact businesses in the immediate vicinity and potentially become a safety hazard near the site of the new home for The Garage Community & Youth Center, which will now be housed in the former Avondale Fire House.

‘The planning stage must begin soon’

While it is expected that McMahon Associates will not only serve as a unifier on this study but also its primary juggler of conflicting needs and visions, Hundt said that the timing of the study comes at a crucial time.

“I believe that necessity will prove to be the mother of invention,” he said. “The problems that residents are experiencing are in dire need of a solution, and I think that this study – which the grant is funding – will be an important and necessary first step to putting some ideas on paper, and beginning a broader conversation.  The planning stage must begin soon.”

How well the McMahon Associates study will function – and potentially lead to infrastructure improvements along the Route 41 Corridor -- will depend on the ability of the five municipalities to work as a collection of unified and regional voices and share them with PennDOT.

“One of the things that unites them all in their vision is that they don’t want to see an expanded roadway,” Kaplan said. “They want to see the roadway that is currently there, made better. What S.A.V.E. is trying to do is get PennDOT to take a more comprehensive view of the corridor while assisting PennDOT’s process by getting a consensus from these municipalities.

“Each municipality has its own issues, but it will be about focusing on the larger question and how those issues fit into that.”

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].