PHOENIXVILLE >> A project over a decade in the making designed to alleviate traffic along the French Creek appears to have hit a dead end.
Borough council unanimously approved submitting a letter of no build to PennDOT, indicating that the proposed French Creek Parkway project, originally estimated to cost $20 million before ballooning to more than $40 million, has gone as far as it can and cannot continue as planned.
“We’re at the 11th hour,” said Borough Manager Jean Krack. “October of this year is the 10 anniversary of the plot. The PennDOT approved expenditures thus far are hovering at right about $965,000.”
The project, first proposed about 16 years ago, would have incorporated more than $5 million in federally funded earmarks received by former Congressman Jim Gerlach and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, to create a system of roadways connecting both sides of French Creek. The money was tied to a transportation improvement plan, which Krack explained gave the borough 12 years to get the project off the ground through PennDOT and the Delaware valley Regional Planning Commission.
The proposed parkway would have started midway up Starr Street near the old borough hall, located off of Church Street, and continued across Bridge Street and French Creek, Krack said. From there it would have travelled across Main Street, underneath the high bridge before splitting off. One leg would continue across French Creek again onto Taylor Alley next to Borough Hall before coming across French Creek again at Paradise Street. Then at Paradise Street, it would have split. One way would have gone to Paradise Street, while the other went to Mason Street.
“And yes it does go right through the middle of home plate,” Krack said of DeSanno Field. “Because back in that time frame the original design there was an intent to move the ballfield from that location to one of the locations on the steel property site.”
In 2004, the federal earmarks were engaged when Traffic Planning and Design Inc. was contracted to do preliminary design work that would set up the project for construction, Krack said. The earmarks came under the stipulation that the borough had 10 years to either get a full right of way, or get the project under construction.
“At this time, we only have the right of way on the area between Bridge Street and French Creek,” Krack said. “And the right of way between French Creek and Main Street on the Toll Brothers property.”
The project was initially estimated at $20 million by 2010. When it was presented to PennDOT and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, the budget grew to over $40 million, given the amount of additional expenses involved, Krack said.
“To which PennDOT and Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission almost unanimously said there’s no way this project’s going to get built and (they) would have started the process of taking the funding away,” Krack said. “The project was then divided into smaller pieces to see if in fact we could get something done with the earmarks that we had and stay within that dollar figure of about $7 million.”
The new plan was to basically connect Main Street through the largest parcel and end up on Taylor Alley next to Borough Hall.
“Somewhat of a giant L,” Krack said. “That’s where we’ve stopped.”
The new plan required preliminary engineering but was halted in 2011 after the developer would not assist the borough in getting any plans to PennDOT.
Now the clock is ticking before the borough is forced to pay back what it spent in federal highway money on designing and engineering for the original parkway plan because it was never completed.
However, if PennDOT authorizes the borough’s no build request, it will review how much was already spent on the project and how much is left to spend and call it even.
“Basically PennDOT looks at it and says ‘OK we’ve got this amount of money into it but there’s this amount of money still on the books, that’s a fair trade,’” Krack said. “Then get out of it. That’s where we’re at.”’
Council member Jonathan Ewald asked if by removing the federal money, it meant the borough was no longer committed to alleviating traffic in that area. Krack responded by saying by removing that money the developer of the largest remaining parcel would no longer have federal funding available, which means it would have to build a parkway all by itself.
“That means council is in full control of its wishes of what they would like to see the developer build on that particular site,” he said.
“We are still going to focus on alleviating traffic,” said council member Michael Kuznar reiterated. “We’re aware growth is causing more of it. And we also hope that PennDOT approves of this.”