The Brandywine Conservancy released the results of a three-year study highlighting the need for municipalities that surround the Route 41 corridor to take action to combat the threat of sprawl.
The study released on Jan. 27 was initiated in 2002 amid controversy over PennDOT's proposed plan to widen Route 41 to improve safety and congestion on the heavily-trafficked thoroughfare.
PennDOT has since scaled back plans for the new highway. But Brandywine's analysis of the issues surrounding the potential for sprawl provides a tool for municipalities to combat the problem through zoning and land conservation planning.
Since PennDOT originally proposed widening Route 41, the fear has been that an improved road will open up the predominantly agricultural area to residential development much the way subdivisions sprang up once the Route 30 Bypass was built.
"Roads, their design, and the lands around them are all interrelated, and afford opportunities for both appropriate growth and natural-resource protection," said Sherri L. Evans-Stanton, director of the Environmental Management Center of the Brandywine Conservancy.
"The Route 41 corridor in western Chester County is such an area. Although much has been accomplished, the corridor is still vulnerable. Municipalities now have an opportunity to accelerate efforts to preserve the unique character of the region," said Evans-Stanton.
One citizen advocacy group, S.A.V.E (Safety, Agriculture, Villages and Environment), hailed the conservancy's report.
"It is an excellent summary of the history and issues involved, as well as outlining what tools can be used to direct growth in the corridor in a more sustainable manner," said Dee Durham, executive director of S.A.V.E.
"Both S.A.V.E. and the Brandywine Conservancy are aligned in our perspective on the need for state of the art improvements to the Route 41 roadway that provide safety and updated infrastructure but without adding excess capacity that catalyzes sprawl and loss of open space," Durham said.
Since 1993, PennDOT has been studying proposals to expand Route 41 in response to increased truck and vehicular traffic. The highway, which is 18 miles long, extends from Delaware County to Lancaster County.
PennDOT is proposing improvements to a 9.5 mile section of the highway between Delaware County and Route 926 through New Garden, Avondale, London Grove and Londonderry.
In the spring of 2005, Penn-DOT formed an executive committee from 25 stakeholder groups. They included municipal and state officials, business organizations, agriculture and open space organizations, economic development groups, school districts and members of the trucking industry. The committee made recommendations to PennDOT. Its last meeting was in October 2005.
While PennDOT hasn't released its final proposal, Avondale has already expressed opposition to a proposal for a series of roundabouts and a two-lane bypass through the borough.
The Brandywine Conservancy report, "Conservation Opportunities for Corridor Preservation and Community Development," is the work of about six to eight staffers who examined nine municipalities that surround Route 41. They focused on three related issues and developed a separate report for each.
One analysis quantified the amount of development that a municipality's zoning would allow giving a picture of what the township or borough could look like in 20 years.
Their analysis predicted that if there was no change to current zoning, about 9,600 more homes were projected to be built in the next 20 years in the nine Route 41 communities. The report projected that 65 percent of those 9,600 new homes would be in London Grove and West Sadsbury.
"Many municipalities have not looked at it this way and are shocked because it doesn't reflect their vision for their community," said John Theilacker, associate director for municipal assistance at the conservancy.
Another report, based on a methodology developed by a professor of agricultural economics at Penn State University, is an analysis of the cost of providing services versus revenue generated by different land use.
For instance, in West Fallowfield, the researchers discovered that for every $1 collected from the residential community, $1.13 was spent. While in the commercial, industrial and farmland communities, only $0.03 was spent for every dollar collected.
The third report reviewed existing studies on the relationship between highway improvements and land use.