Roundabouts. That is PennDOT new speak for traffic circles. I know, I know I have been writing about this a lot on this blog. Most recently at the beginning of this month (October, 2019) That is when East Whiteland and East Goshen released a letter they received from PennDOT September 30:
At that time I said September 30th was Monday, so why has it taken this long for the people to be notified and have they even notified the potentially affected residents? I marvel that PennDOT dated the letter September 23rd and it took until September 30th to be received? DO they not also send an electronic copy?
PennDOT needs to define “minor construction” and does that mean any eminent domain land takings?
PennDOT will do this project when exactly and how long will it take?
And if PennDOT was offering to meet with both townships, I suggested that when that occured the most directly affected homeowners should be present with whatever representation they so chose to be with them.
Well guess what? According to residents I know (directly affected in fact) the meeting DID take place. And East Whiteland Towsnhip verified this on October 15 when they said on their website “On September 30, East Whiteland and East Goshen Townships received a letter from PennDOT regarding its recommendations for the Route 352 and King Road intersection.
The Townships recently met with PennDOT to discuss those recommendations. No decisions as to road improvements have been made, but the Townships agreed to update traffic counts along the roads and expect to continue discussions with PennDOT when those studies are completed.”
Please note who was missing at said meeting with PennDOT. Yup, you’ve got it, the potentially affected residents.
When they received the news these residents (my extended neighbors) replied to East Whiteland very politely but firmly:
Thanks for keeping us in the loop and for pushing back on PennDOT’s recommendations.
That said, while we appreciate that you may be hesitant to proceed with the only two options PennDOT is permitting (a roundabout or making the roads perpendicular), we still have much to talk about. Will you share why the townships are willing to pay for new traffic counts, what the townships think are the existing problems that must be fixed and what is your goal?
It is my understanding that the various justifications the township has presented have been adequately debunked. It started with cut through traffic, then law breaking cut through traffic, then rush hour delays, then unjustified future traffic predictions, and eventually it morphed to safety. Now, it seems like rush hour delays may be the leading reason again. Or, is this all just a means to mask future plans for over-development? Whatever the reason, it is concerning and very disappointing that the township hasn’t ruled out eminent domain given the community feedback as well as an overwhelming evidence contradicting those justifications.
If the township still feels adequate justification exists and cares about the affected residents, you will help us to understand those justifications. We don’t need to wait for new counts.
If people were dying in the intersection, bad accidents were above “normal” or traffic was backed up frequently enough that it was unpleasant for those of us who actually live here, we would understand (or move). However, these conditions absolutely do not exist. We live here because we want to. If you plan to take our land, destroy our properties, reduce our quality of life, eliminate our privacy and reduce our safety by making the traffic move faster and closer to our homes, we need to understand and accept your justifications or we will fight you to the bitter end.
Finally, can we audit the new counting process when it occurs? Or can we be involved in hiring the firm to perform the counts? Given the conflicts of interest identified with McMahon and the weakness of their presentation, the legitimacy of any further data they present will be called into question.
Subsequent email letters went to PennDOT (three times) from directly affected residents and as they can be obtained on a Right To Know Request, I am publishing them now.
Here is the first letter:
From: Tom Stuart
Sent: Wednesday, October 2, 2019 11:28 AM
Cc: Sue Drummond <email@example.com>; Rich Orlow <firstname.lastname@example.org>; ‘email@example.com‘ <firstname.lastname@example.org>;
Subject: Eminent Domain Taking @ King & 352
Dear Mr. Patel:
I read your September 23, 2019 response to East Whiteland and East Goshen Townships regarding the intersection of Sproul (S.R. 0352) and King Road (S.R. 2022).
In your first paragraph you cite an increase in traffic volumes as the justification for a solution requiring eminent domain taking. A solution that “must be advanced for eventual implementation within a reasonable timeframe.”
Given your solution will destroy homes, privacy, safety and home values (for which payment alone will not cure), are you basing your recommendation on the two traffic reports prepared by McMahon & Assoc in 2005 and 2016? Or, do you have some other traffic volume data that you can share?
It is my understanding that both McMahon studies were performed for just (2) one-hour periods during peak traffic periods in 2005 and 2016, respectively. Further, while I am not currently able to locate the 2005 report to confirm, I was informed by an EG township official that there was very little traffic volume increase measured at the intersection between 2005 and 2016. If this is true, then what “increase in traffic volumes” are your referring to? Is it based on only future predictions? Please quantify.
My wife and I have lived at the intersection for over 20 years. (I purchased the home on December 31, 1996.) Our home literally faces the center of the intersection. Based on my extensive experience, I vehemently disagree with the premise that there is a volume problem that must be resolved. You may consider my opinion biased because the widening and tree/brush removal will eliminate all of the privacy I have spent 10s of thousands of dollars (and a couple decades) to build up, it will dramatically reduce my safety (I can provide more details), and moving me closer to the intersection will destroy my property value.
That said, don’t take it from me. At the June 5, 2019 meeting at Immaculata, I surveyed an audience full of 100+ township residents by asking, “Who thinks delays are the primary problem at the intersection?” Exactly zero people raised their hands. (https://bit.ly/2oueoGQ: Time Stamp: 1:50:10)
So, while your recommendations may be suitable if there were a traffic delay problem at the intersection, the township residents do not agree with the premise under which you have proposed a solution.
So, if PennDOT will not support a permanent, signal-only solution to help address the left turn issues from 352, does PennDOT support a “do nothing” approach? It was not entirely clear whether you were recommending or requiring your “comprehensive” eminent domain taking solution. This is an important detail. Please clarify.
Here is the second letter:
From: Tom Stuart
Sent: Thursday, October 3, 2019 3:37 PM
Cc: Sue Drummond <email@example.com>; Rich Orlow <firstname.lastname@example.org>; ‘email@example.com’ <firstname.lastname@example.org>; ‘email@example.com’ <firstname.lastname@example.org>; John Nagel <email@example.com>
Subject: RE: Eminent Domain Taking @ King & 352 – *** Major Safety Concern ***
Dear Mr. Patel,
I have a critical safety concern regarding your suggestion to enable King Rd traffic to drive head on through the 352 intersection at the same time (“in exchange” for split phasing on 352.)
First, do you have a sketch or diagram of the revised intersection layout you are proposing?
I have driven up and down King Rd through the intersection a few times since I read your letter—including in the pitch dark last night. I wanted to get a feel for and imagine the shifted sight lines you are proposing (if the township proceeds with a 2-phased approach.) I imagined it with the westbound King Rd lane being re-located southward by about 1 lane width.
Given that the westbound approach rises slightly to the intersection and the eastbound approach rises significantly, you are inviting a full-speed, head on collision by letting that traffic flow at the same time and at full speed with such limited visibility.
Even if your plan includes destroying a half dozen or so properties by removing all of our privacy and safety providing trees and shrubs, safe sight lines simply do not exist with the current (or the slightly modified) geometry.
As you may or may not be aware, the left turns from 352 are not a major safety hazard now. They are more of an inefficiency and annoyance. The resulting accidents from those turns tend to be low speed fender benders… not head on and certainly not at full speed. The worst symptoms are frustrated drivers honking and cursing.
For this reason, I believe that switching the split phasing from King Rd to 352 as you propose (in part 1 of your 2-phased approach) will make the intersection considerably less safe.
Incidentally, there is a similarly shaped intersection geometry where Paoli Pike meets route 30 in Paoli. The sight lines are MUCH better there because it’s more level. However, in the mid to late 1980s (before the lights were changed to include a protected left turn phase from 30) there was a head on collision that occurred with so much force the driver’s heart detached from all of her arteries. So, unless you and the township want to be directly responsible for introducing fatalities to the intersection, I suggest you withdraw or amend that portion of your recommendation.
If you have any feedback defending what you proposed, I’d be interested to hear it—especially because the townships will likely heed your input more than mine.
I urge the townships to respond to this concern as well.
And here is the third letter:
Thu, Oct 17, 8:21 PM (12 hours ago)
to ASHPATEL@pa.gov, Sue, Rich, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, John, Christie, firstname.lastname@example.org, TINA, Timothy, Christine, Zeek747, me, Ted
Dear Mr. Patel,
I gather from your lack of response to my previous emails (and because the residents were not invited to recent closed-door meeting) that you do not intend to respond to me. The important part is that I have raised my safety concern, you saw it, the townships saw it and it’s now part of the public record.
I would like to draw your attention to a few more critical issues I have identified in your letter of Sept 23 to the townships:
Your suggestion (2e) indicates that signal upgrades could better detect traffic. Obviously, this means reducing delays without any negative impact on safety or otherwise. If PennDOT thinks traffic delays are a problem, why would this not be your recommended solution as a first and immediate phase? Why wasn’t this recommended and implemented years ago? You go on to state that this improvement would not be approved by PennDOT unless the township also agree to take land from local residents in “a reasonable timeframe”. This is outrageous and extremely upsetting. Is this how PennDOT operates– with a complete and total disregard for residents’ homes and properties not to mention a disregard for common sense and unnecessary expenditures?
One of your suggestions is to clear the vegetation through the intersection along King Rd to improve visibility (2c). When it comes to the goal of improving safety, this applies not only to the drivers but also to pedestrians and residents, I assume. As Senior Manager of Traffic Engineering and Safety Division, you must be aware that trees and shrubs create a safety barrier between the traffic and the residents when they must co-exist in close proximity. Tearing them down, as you propose, reduces safety for residents (and pedestrians).
You state that that safety is the department’s primary goal. Yet, you directly contradict this statement with your proposed solutions. If safety is the primary goal, a safety improvement like enhanced traffic detection and painted lines (as you suggest in 2f) could be implemented now. (Or, years ago.) In fact, if safety were the primary goal, a safety improvement such as signal phasing on 352 could be delivered even if it came at the expense of added delays. Your proposals not only fail to make safety the primary consideration, you go so far as to suggest that signal-only safety improvements to 352 traffic can only be delivered if the township agrees to reduce safety on King Rd by letting it drive head on, simultaneously. Local residents would likely agree with me that this could be a net reduction in safety. The reality is that the goal of your proposal appears to be: reduce delays and, if possible, improve safety and do so at the highest possible expense. I find it disappointing that neither you nor the townships ever acknowledge this glaring falsehood being perpetuated. This is not and has never been about improving safety.
Each time I read your proposal and consider what has transpired to date, I become more and more disappointed by what appears to be a complete lack of competence, integrity, honesty, transparency and common sense by all parties carrying some sort of responsibility here. If you disagree with anything I have said and do not wish to have a dialogue with me directly, I understand. I hope you will communicate your feedback to the townships so they can pass it along to me. Or, if the townships care about the affected residents, they can prove it.
Until I see common sense prevail, I will not go away.
“….would not be approved by PennDOT unless the township also agree to take land from local residents in “a reasonable timeframe”.”
There you have it. EMINENT DOMAIN. They always try to make it sound pretty. How was it one of the East Whiteland Supervisors referred to it? As “slivers” of land or something equally preposterous?
It’s eminent domain. It’s stealing someone’s property and for what? So PennDOT can have their Roundabout Reign Of Terror?
I noticed in September PennDOT was doing the old soft shoe PR on their pet project to ruin where we live. All. Across. The. State.
Here, courtesy of Talk Erie News, is essentially PennDOT’s press release in September about this:
Now whomever heads up PennDOT gets a plum pickings patronage job with taxpayer funded benefits of pure political pork, right? Well it is currently one of the original Wolf girls, Leslie Richards:
If you wonder why our roads are so bad, can it be said look no further than Ms. Richards? Would you like to contact Leslie Richards? Try:
The Honorable Leslie S. Richards
Secretary, PA Dept. of Transportation
400 North Street
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Here (courtesy of Wikipedia) is the chronology of her ascent to the cushy land of political patronage jobs:
Richards was elected to the Whitemarsh Township Board of Supervisors in 2007, and became chairwoman of the board in 2008.
Richards was elected to the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners in 2011. Her election, along with that of fellow Democrat Josh Shapiro, marked the first time in over a century that Democrats controlled the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners. Richards served as Montgomery County’s representative on the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. Richards also serves on the board of SEPTA.
Pennsylvania political operatives had mentioned Richards as a potential Congressional candidate in Pennsylvania’s 6th congressional district. Richards declined to run for the seat after incumbent Congressman Jim Gerlach retired in 2014.
In 2015, following the election of Democratic Governor Tom Wolf, Richards was nominated to serve as Secretary of Transportation of Pennsylvania. She was subsequently confirmed by the Pennsylvania State Senate in May 2015.
In 2017, Richards was appointed the first female chair of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission as well as the Public Private Partnership (P3) Board.
But what does she actually DO? I will note I contacted Ms. Richards when this whole Roundabout Reign of Terror began. Her response, even an acknowledgement, of the fact that I contacted her must have gotten lost in the mail.
So people always say when it comes to things like road projects to follow the money, right? So what happens when we follow the money to PennDOT with regard to things like Roundabout Reigns of Terror? Who is benefitting? Is it a long list? Is it a short list?
I sent an e-mail overnight to Senator Andy Dinniman since I feel the State Representatives have been quite invisible on this.
What is happening here is terrifying. He needs to act. He actually might have the power to help my neighbors and get the pause button pushed.
NO ONE HAS TRIED BASIC SIGNALIZATION CHANGES! Why the heavy PennDOT push for traffic circles or the more politically new speak term of “roundabouts” ? Whatever happened to trying something less expensive before taking people’s homes?
Again, if the money trail is followed all the way to Harrisburg where will it lead?
The basic intersection changes affected residents asked for would cost a whole lot LESS than a Circle. And it would not involve eminent domain.
But we, as residents and taxpayers, have been told that PennDOT doesn’t want that. Everything they want seems to involve eminent domain doesn’t it?
Money, money, money. It’s only money and OPM or Other People’s Money at that. Do you want your taxpayer dollars to go to stealing a neighbor’s home?
Why should my neighbors be forced to this? Why should they fear losing their homes? How would you feel if you were facing eminent domain?
None of us asked for this. And the origins of this current situation is somewhat mind boggling to me. That all came out when we did RTK requests a few months ago.
People have asked State Reps for help and to the best of my knowledge that has kind of gone nowhere.
My neighbors need and deserve help. This affects residents in East Whiteland and East Goshen. Truthfully it affects anyone who travels through this intersection. Have you watched people use roundabouts? And what about Immaculata and the buses that come through to them and the trucks, big trucks, which travel these roads?
Of course my personal thoughts include that wanton development is also a culprit here- another thing residents didn’t ask for.
I have seen what the threat of eminent domain does to communities as I have been to this movie before. I just didn’t expect it out here as a threat quite as often as I have seen it.
We have done rights to know. In the spring we learned a lot. Is that the only way we can ever get answers is to pay to be flooded with paper?
This summer I took photos while a passenger in a car. Of a roundabout no one knows how to drive on in Chester County. On Route 52. Where it is still kind of rural and no one lost their homes, although undoubtedly someone lost some land as in open space/farm land.
The topography where that circle was placed is radically different from where PennDOT seems hell bent for leather to get one at King and 352.
Putting a traffic circle, roundabout, whatever you wish to new speak it as on King and 352 is like the proverbial square peg in the round hole, or is it round peg in the square hole? (Sorry, traffic circle humor)
Remember this issue when election day rolls around.
Soon it will be Halloween. Then we will have Thanksgiving and Christmas and Channukah and so on, so what do these poor residents have to look forward to with the evil specter of eminent domain courtesy of PennDOT lurking around seemingly every corner?
Residents asking for traffic improvements on side streets somehow translated to a potential pork project and please stop the roundabout turntable, residents want to get off.
Can anyone help stop this? Does anyone give a crap about residents anymore? Or all we just expendable?