A matter of inches Roadway width raising concerns at new shopping center

By on August 21, 2013

By:

GARY P. KLINGER Review Correspondent

, Staff Writer

For some, it may seem that the significant progress being made at the Ephrata Marketplace shopping center signals an end to traffic problems being created by its construction.

But that may not be the case.

A controversy has sprung up with regard to roadway width in front of the new shopping complex which will feature, among other things, a new Giant grocery store and several other businesses along Route 322 in Ephrata Township. While all road improvements had to be cleared through a rigorous approval process with PennDOT as well as local and county planning officials, that roadway, which is now nearing completion, could be six inches too close to the center line.

But questions remain whether that will be changed.

According to local resident Richard Moyer, even if the curb is pushed back 6 inches that is more narrow than the 5 feet wide shoulder which was there before. The main concern is that the curbing recently placed in the 800 block of East Main Street allows for a roadway that is so narrow that the buggies and bicycles which are a major presence in the area can no longer safely travel side by side with the other traffic on this busy section of roadway.

Safety is not the only concern. Traffic flows in that area of town have been a problem that pre-dates even ground breaking at the Ephrata Marketplace complex. With inadequate space on the roadway for both motorized and non-motorized vehicles, the result could be significant, long term traffic log jams into the foreseeable future.

According to Moyer, a growing number of residents feel the curbs should be moved back two feet, six inches, to best accommodate non-motorized traffic.

"We must act now before the silly ineffective curb fix of just six inches is finalized," said Moyer. "I’m afraid they’ll do this ineffective fix as soon as next week and then it will be too late!"

Township Manager Steve Sawyer said he shares the concerns being raised, but added that since this is a state road, it was a matter for PennDot to consider and approve. He added that the township engineer has been out to look at the site and discuss local concerns about the issue with state officials.

State Rep. Gordon Denlinger is aware of the matter and trying to help remedy the situation.

"I have been in touch with PennDot, and have requested a review of the width," said Denlinger. "The initial response indicated that the current width was approved by the County Planning Commission and local government authorities. I have shared that we have a significant traffic flow issue on 322 in eastern Ephrata, and that some widening would help with general flow, pedestrian and bicycle safety, and with the Amish buggies that use the corridor. I am awaiting a response at this time."

Moyer has also taken his concerns to Ephrata Borough officials, who have been sympathetic, yet like Ephrata Township officials, are limited in what they can do to correct the matter.

"Without having seen the plans I cannot comment on the specifics of this issue," said Ephrata Borough Manager Bob Thompson. "Not only does the state issue the permit, the project is in Ephrata Township, not the borough."

Greg Penny is a spokesman for PennDot.

"The main points I would make is that the work currently taking place along Route 322 for the new Giant is not a PennDOT project," clarified Penny. "This is work being done by a private developer under a highway occupancy permit (HOP) issued by PennDOT that allows the contractor to work within a PennDOT right-of-way and do work – especially the driveway connection to the state highway – according to PennDOT standards and specifications. PennDOT does not require curbing and/or sidewalk. This is a local requirement by the township."

Penny reiterated that the roadwork being done was the responsibility of the project’s developer.

"There are no plans to widen the road," stated Penny. "Any widening would need to be done by the developer. This would be at the developer’s cost and therefore may be unlikely. Widening can also be complicated because of possible impacts on utility lines behind the curb and also the impact on other features such as driveway slopes, telephone poles, etc., which would drive up the cost of the work for the developer."

There were some indications that portions of the curbing would need to be pushed back, which raise a question in Moyer’s eye. "If it’s being moved 6 inches, why not move it back 2 feet 6 inches to provide optimal shoulder width for non-motorized vehicles?

Penny spoke to this.

"There are no plans to push back the curb 6 inches or more," he added. "If the curb on-site has [not] been improperly installed so that it does not provide a four-foot-wide shoulder, then it must be corrected. Pushing back the curb could involve the same impacts mentioned [earlier.]"

And while no solution is currently planned, Penny explained that any solution would need to be a team effort, at least in the planning stages.

"No action is currently planned, other than to explore some possible options that may help to improve the situation, but such considerations would need the involvement and concurrence by the township and the developer."

Moyer indicated that as far back as 2003 PennDot had affected a policy change with regard to roadway width, with policy wording that stated new projects "should" consider the needs of non-motorized transportation.

"In other words, only a preexisting home or rock wall would excuse them from providing optimal roadway width, but on unobstructed level ground as on 322, the default would be to provide the width," stated Moyer.

For his part, Penny did little to address Moyer’s point that if it could be made wider, why not?

"PennDOT is sensitive and very much aware of the desire to provide wider shoulders for bicyclists and buggies in Lancaster County and elsewhere, and this concern is raised by PennDOT and taken into consideration during the review process for highway occupancy permits and also for highway projects," stated Penny. "Where shoulder widths can be preserved and maintained and even widened, that is our preference. But as areas become more developed and commercial development becomes established, it is difficult to hold the line, especially when precedence has been established, such as the Walmart to the east where the shoulder width is less than four feet."

As those who have traveled through that corridor have noticed, more than simple curbing has been placed. Box style storm drains have been placed. To remove or retro-fit the storm drainage system could be of considerable cost and raise questions as to who is responsible for such a project.

At each stage of any such construction project, developers must undergo considerable layers of red tape at the local, county, even the state level before such a project can get underway. Those layers of approval cover everything from storm water management to traffic studies. As in the case with the Ephrata Marketplace project, the necessary red-tape included traffic studies, plans and approvals from Penndot. In this particular case, those approvals came with requirements for the developer to widen the roadway and create a new intersection with a traffic signal at Pleasant Valley Road and Route 322.

"I also learned that the American Association of Safety and Highway Officials (AASHTO) recommends a five foot shoulder for bicyclists if there is a curb, since the space next to a curb gets filled with debris," added Moyer. "So I was shocked to see the curbs going in at the new Giant center making route 322 narrower. Calling the engineer who did the highway occupancy permit resulted only in them saying the contractor must move the curb back six inches to meet the four foot shoulder plan. But a four foot shoulder won’t allow optimal clearance per AASHTO guidelines for cyclists, much less a buggy with its five foot two wheelbase plus axles (we had a buggy measured). "

Moyer noted that he has heard from members of the plain community who are likewise concerned.

"These buggy drivers are very upset but the [Amish] don’t even have phones, much less Internet, so they cannot complain very quickly," noted Moyer.

Among those who Moyer has contacted with his concerns included: Greg Penny, PennDot public relations, at 787-1446 (or e-mail gpenny@pa.gov), or PennDot’s on-site engineer, Mazhar Malik, at 787-8790 (e-mail mmalik@pa.gov), or the PennDot District 8 Manager, Mike Keiser at e-mail mikeiser@state.pa.us.

More SHOPPING CENTER, page A15

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