Charlestown Township, Chester County, PA

 
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Established June 2, 1997
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Final Report to the Board of Supervisors by the Charlestown Township Representatives to the Turnpike Slip Ramp Citizens Advisory Committee
 

February 4, 2002

To: Charlestown Board of Supervisors
From: Charlestown Representatives to the Turnpike Citizens Advisory Committee: John Martin, Charlie Philips, Wendy Leland (Alt), Sue Staas (Alt)
Subject: The Pennsylvania Turnpike Slip Ramp
Today, with a heavy heart and many unanswered questions we submit this report as a final report, because the Turnpike has decided to proceed with constructing the slip ramp onto Route 29; and the CAC has been disbanded.
If all goes according to estimate, the Turnpike Commission will approve the engineering design phase of the project at its meeting in Harrisburg on March 6. This phase will take about 18 months to complete. Supposedly, citizens will be kept informed. If all is approved, construction will begin in summer of 2003, and be completed in 2005. It should be noted that the current construction on the Turnpike bridges over Route 29 and Phoenixville Pike are not specifically tied to the slip ramp. Instead the bridges are being renovated to support the eventual widening of the Turnpike to six lanes from King of Prussia to Downingtown; and the widening and improvement of Route 29 and the intersection with Charlestown Road. With construction set to begin later this year, Route 29 will be widened to four lanes, and the Route 29/Phoenixville Pike intersection will be widened with turn lanes. At least three more traffic lights will appear on Route 29 - at White Horse Road, Yellow Springs Road and at the intersection of the slip ramp access road with Route 29 across from the Catanach Quarry. Also, there will be a connector road cutoff from Phoenixville Pike past the Saloon and connecting to 29. This is to reduce traffic at the 29/Charlestown Rd intersection. A diagram of the proposal is attached.
The best of this sad conclusion is that because of concerns raised in the CAC meetings, through our supervisors' suit, and with the advent of Atwater, the ramp appears to be better designed, may divert eastbound traffic from Downingtown, etc., from Route 401, and will empty into Route 29 about 1.5 miles south of Charlestown. The worst of this conclusion is that the development pressure on Charlestown will only increase. We hope that the Supervisors, with the support of our citizens, will work closely with neighboring townships and with Chester County to support and enforce Landscapes, Chester County's Comprehensive Plan.
Of immediate and specific concern is the "Memorandum of Understanding" that will be drafted between the Turnpike and the County, as part of the County's acceptance of the proposal. That Memorandum will address the questions of limiting truck access to the slip ramp, of limiting the access just to Ezpass, and of including any other limitations that we, Tredyffrin, East Whiteland or Schuylkill feel is important. At this time, it is our understanding that the Memorandum will be with the County because there are four townships who will be immediately affected by this exit. We must be involved in drafting that memorandum!
For the supervisors' and Charlestown's citizens' information, this final report traces the history of our efforts to quash the slip ramp or to minimize its effects on our township. Whether we were successful in minimizing its effects, only time will tell. We are disappointed that we were not able to quash it but the deck was stacked against meaningful input from the start. The Turnpike intends to install commuter access and is only willing to make minor alterations. As we well know, they are not bound by the rules that apply to U.S. interstate highways or even to state roads, funded by taxes.
Just over three years ago the Township was informed that the Pennsylvania Turnpike was considering placing a slip ramp near the Route 29 crossing of the Turnpike. Route 29 was chosen, because the Turnpike's original selection of Route 252 met with enormous opposition from Tredyffrin Township and ultimately from Valley Forge National Park.
In response to this proposal, Sally Willig, with support from Charlestown's Republican and Democratic committee people organized an anti slip ramp petition effort at the next election. More than three quarters of those turning out for the election signed the petition. Many Charlestown citizens organized and attended public meetings in opposition to this slip ramp; and requested (as did our Chester County Commissioners!) that public hearings be held. It should be pointed out that projects funded with public tax dollars are subject to public hearings. However, because the Turnpike is a public/private organization, it is not subject to this regulation if it uses its income from tolls and contribution (for instance from corporations) to fund the project. According to its accounting, no public moneys will be used for this project. Therefore, it refused to hold public hearings.
In response, Charlestown citizens conducted a major letter writing campaign to then Governor Ridge and to our elected state officials. Charlestown Township, with Schuylkill Township as an interested party, filed suit in an attempt to force the Turnpike to conduct official public hearing. At least in part because of this pressure, the Turnpike met with Chester County Officials and agreed, finally, to set up and sponsor a Citizens' Advisory Committee. The Citizens' Advisory Committee was constituted as an advisory committee by the Turnpike and was funded by the Turnpike - so the Turnpike was in charge. The stated purpose of the CAC was to be a conduit of information between the Turnpike Commission and interested parties (citizens) only. We were particularly disappointed that the "conduit of information" was effectively blocked when the final proposal was initially presented at a CAC meeting on December 20, 2001 when the traffic studies were still incomplete. To further impede feedback, the final CAC meeting was held just a month later. There was little opportunity for citizens' feedback!
The CAC began to meet at the end of 1999 and met ten times between then and January 2002. The majority of members appointed to the CAC by the Turnpike and the Chester County Commissioners appeared to be in favor of the slip ramp. (List of members is appended to this report.)
Early in the process, the Chester County Planning Commission lent structure to the proceedings by submitting a list of twenty-six questions based upon the County's Landscapes Plan and emphasizing data. This shifted the focus of the CAC members from opinion and a certain amount of bitterness to a more fact-based inquiry into the actual need for a slip ramp and into exploring the possible unintended consequences of building the ramp.
Charlestown's representatives questioned the presenting data, based on traffic studies from the 1990's, which did not support the need for a Slip Ramp as presented by the Turnpike. We challenged the Turnpike Commission to delay final decision on the slip ramp until we could study the effects of EZpass, which was installed on a trial basis at about the same time as the CAC was organized. In addition, we requested that they wait until all the new construction on Routes 202, 422 and 76 was completed to see the effect on the current regional traffic congestion. It should be noted that in our opinion, the need for slip ramps has not been proven. And since EZpass at King of Prussia is still new; and the repairs on Route 202 are not completed, we still do not know their effect on traffic in the Great Valley area.
When we were challenged to present alternatives to those originally proposed by the Turnpike Commission, Schuylkill Township's representatives and we proposed:
  1. No build.
  2. Build slip ramps at each major Turnpike crossing from King of Prussia to Downingtown to disperse traffic.
  3. Build a slip ramp at Valley Forge directly to Route 422.
  4. Build a slip ramp that would empty directly into Atwater and extend, via a parallel road, to exit into the Great Valley Corporate Center at two locations.
  5. Construct Westbound ramps that along with a slip ramp at Route 113 would divert traffic from Charlestown's roads.
  6. Connect the Turnpike directly to Route 202.
These suggestions were all ultimately rejected as being impractical or too expensive. However, the final design does empty traffic into Atwater. It includes a right hand turn feeder lane parallel to Route 29 from the Corporate Center to the Turnpike access ramp entrance; and it provides for Turnpike traffic to and from the West. On the diagram, the slip ramp access road is marked by the toll booths (which Jeff Davis has said repeatedly are unmanned.)
Your CAC representatives did their best; but the interests of Tredyffrin and East Whiteland Townships as well as the business community in Chester County were clearly pro-slip ramp onto Route 29. Our State elected officials and the county Republican Party were not helpful. We have a challenge before us to convince these folk that it is to their advantage to ensure that Charlestown, Schuylkill, and the townships north of the Turnpike and west of us retain at least some open space and some of our rural character, as defined in Chester County Landscapes.

(A larger image of this diagram is available here.)

Jan 2002 Rt. 29 Slip Ramp Plan


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