PennDOT meets Hanover Twp.
Hanover Township held a special meeting on Jan.14 to discuss with PennDOT officials the FedEx warehouse project underway in Allen Township. Hundreds of township residents gathered for the meeting at the municipal building.
The high turnout taxed the meeting facilities, with many interested parties catching the commentary in the lobby.
Michael Rebert, District Executive for PennDOT, was caught by surprise.
"We didn't expect this to be a public meeting," he said.
Council and Township Solicitor Jackson Eaton maintained order and kept the meeting informative.
In August 2014, Allen Township supervisors gave the shipping company permission to proceed with construction of a million-square-foot warehouse on land owned by Lehigh Valley International Airport along Willowbrook Road.
Traffic from the warehouse facility will travel down Willowbrook Road, across Race Street, and down Airport Road to access Route 22. All the traffic from the warehouse passes through Hanover Township.
In the past months, the township has argued with Allen Township and anyone else listening that the traffic study made in conjunction with the construction proposal did not adequately address the potential for major problems in Hanover.
At this meeting, representatives from PennDOT were on hand to discuss the details of why they approved the traffic study and their desire to proceed with the project.
Because Race Street and Airport Road are state highways, Hanover has limited flexibility on how the roads are enhanced, but Willowbrook Road is a township-owned road controlled by Hanover and is the main access road to the warehouse.
Late last year, the township passed an ordinance which had the effect of requiring Rockefeller Group, the developers for the FedEx project, to submit more detailed traffic documentation for township approval.
A point of contention with the township is that the initial traffic study did not analyze the impact of FedEx traffic on Route 22 congestion. The developers have objected to the additional requirements imposed by the township.
PennDOT contends that Route 22, a federal highway and a significant traffic corridor across the Lehigh Valley, has a planned expansion program under various different projects monitored by PennDOT.
Based on the information presented to Hanover Township in the original traffic study, the council had asked for a fact-finding session with PennDOT, which was the crux of the Jan. 14 meeting.
Councilman Curtis Wegfahrt emphasized that council was interested in data and information.
"We are a pro-business community and we want to maintain the standards we have established for businesses and residents in the community," he said. Rebert, in his commentary, said the Rockefeller Group was the gold-standard for developers and Rockefeller worked closely with PennDOT on the FedEx project.
The numbers on the traffic study have been a source of confusion for all parties. PennDOT confirmed a point made by the developer some months ago, the number of vehicles projected in the traffic study assumed that all parcels are built to the maximum. The potential exists for more warehouses near the FedEx facility. PennDOT only wants to make changes to the infrastructure once.
According Eugene Clater, a member of the Allen Township Planning Commission, there are no plans for warehouses on any additional parcels. However, Hanover Township officials feel justified in holding a skeptical attitude toward Clater's assertion because the FedEx proposal was publicly introduced in March and approved in August. Initial negotiations were withheld from the public.
Thomas Walter, Traffic and Operations Manager for PennDOT, broke the numbers down for council.
"During peak hours, we expect 10 northbound and 10 southbound tractor trailers per hour per day," he said. "On the ramps we expect five tractor-trailers in the morning per hour per ramp and 15 in the evening. We deal with much greater volumes than this. In the context of a highway that handles 22,000 vehicles, this additional traffic load is not considered significant."We [PennDOT] can't hold up development for a regional issue [congestion on route 22]," said Rebert.
Rebert explained that the traffic count numbers are based on industry standard projections for the type of facility served.
"We were conservative in our numbers," he said. "If FedEx had a higher number than the standard, we used the FedEx number. We used the standard if it was higher than the FedEx number."
The proposed road improvements include expanding Willowbrook Road to five lanes, widening Race Street to five lanes, and adding a southbound lane to Airport Road. James McGee, Design Engineer for PennDOT, confirmed that traffic would improve in the immediate area.
Route 22 backups are a major concern for council.
"We don't want to see traffic backed up," Council Chairman Bruce Paulus said.
According to Rebert, Route 22 will be expanded from Airport Road to 15th Street with a projected cost of $250 million. He expects completion in 2022.
Paulus asked if the completion date could be advanced.
Reber responded that environmental studies, design development, and the need to keep the highway at four open lanes during construction preclude revising the schedule for an earlier completion.
According to Walter, future expansion plans for Route 22 would see the road widened on the western end, from Route 309 to I-78 because that section has the highest traffic volume now. Widening the road to Route 33 would happen later.
Councilman Bob Heimbecker expressed his skepticism about the expansion.
"I've been hearing about expanding Route 22 since 1968," he said.
Reber assured council that funding is available for road improvements from Airport Road to 15th Street interchanges.
Wegfahrt suggested that an expansion to 15th Street only moves the congestion to the merge point where the road would then narrow.
Walter responded that traffic decreases significantly passed the MacArthur Road interchange.
Council also brought up concerns that PennDOT admitted were not included in its studies.
The first issue involves the effect of increased traffic on businesses and residents along Airport Road. Several comments were made about the difficulty drivers have turning left on Airport Road, a situation that will only get worse if the road is expanded.
Heimbecker noted delivery trucks back into loading docks to service some businesses along Race Street. Expanding Race Street would require some changes.
He also said the proposed pedestrian crossway on a five-lane Race Street would have an alert, a blinking crosswalk sign. Council does not consider this solution adequate.
Council members also expressed dismay that the traffic study did not address the intersection of Postal and Airport roads.
"Any traffic exiting Route 22 and going north on Airport Road has a problem making a turn at Postal Road," Councilman Michael Woolley said. "We asked PennDOT to address the problem for years, but nothing has been done. This intersection needs to be included in the study."
Councilman John Martucci asked Reber why a northbound lane is not included in the plans. McGee explained that it was not required based on the traffic load.
The plans do call for reconfiguring the intersection of Race Street, Airport Road, and Schoenersville Road. According to the PennDOT representatives, no additional traffic was projected on Schoenersville Road, a projection that council disputes. According to the township, truck traffic exiting Route 22 going north would naturally be attracted to using Schoenersville Road as an alternate.
Paulus added to the list with his concern that municipal vehicles and residents at Chestnut Grove could be locked in on Grove Road during peak traffic periods on Airport and Schoenersville roads. Traffic counts do not justify a light at the intersection of Grove and Airport Roads, but the township asked for an exception.
The exchanges between the parties were courteous and designed to provide information to the township.
"We want to continue to meet the concerns of the township and get the project completed for our client," said Clark Machemer, Regional Director for the Rockefeller Group.
After the meeting, Reber reiterated a comment he made during the open discussion.
"FedEx doesn't want its trucks sitting in a traffic jam," he said. "They need this to work."