A Pennsylvania Department of Transportation project manager encountered heavy traffic during a Chadds Ford Business Association luncheon about the proposed Route 202 expansion from West Chester to Delaware.Several of the 35 people at the Nov. 6 luncheon at the Mendenhall Inn peppered PennDOT project manager Thomas Boccuto with questions about long-studied, oft-discussed plans to widen 7.5 miles of Route 202 - from Matlack Street south to the Pennsylvania/Delaware line - to three lanes in either direction.
This piece of Route 202 is called Section 100 and cuts through Chester and Delaware counties and eight townships. Almost 60 miles of Route 202 is in Pennsylvania.
PennDOT's original master plan also calls for adding costly separated interchanges at the congested intersections of Route 202 with Matlack Street, Route 926 and Route 1.
Route 202 would be rerouted to go over Matlack Street and under routes 926 and 1. Also part of the original plan: eliminating left-turn lanes and creating jughandles or spur loops instead.
A question from Jeff Brown, president of General Insurcorp, West Goshen, summed up many local business owners' frustrations: "What is PennDOT going to do, and when?"
They're flummoxed by repeated delays but also worried about what effect eventual construction could have on their livelihoods.
Boccuto's answer spoke to the harsh realities of the current economic situation, plus the fact that the price tag for the entire project - currently pegged at $300 million to $350 million - is only heading north, the longer it takes to get started.
"The proposed project is not something that Harrisburg can fund at this time," he said. Further, "the likelihood that the project will retain grade separation plans is small."
At today's prices, separating the intersection at Routes 1 and 202 alone would cost $100 million; it would take another $50 million to $60 million to separate the confluence of routes 926 and 202.
Ideas for scaling back the project and thus lowering the cost include widening Section 100 to six lanes with no separated intersections, separating the three troublesome intersections without widening the highway and keeping current left-hand turn lanes while developing other alternatives to ever-increasing traffic, Boccuto said.
He thinks that whatever scaling back PennDOT contemplates, a final design for the project, which includes environmental impact statements, comment periods and other governmental requirements, won't be completed before 2012 at the earliest.
Estimated start date for any Section 100 improvements is now pushed to 2016 or beyond, he said.
Depending on the project's scope, from 80 to 150 businesses close to Route 202 could be displaced when construction finally begins.
Another, more pressing, concern is the condition of the state's bridges, at least according to one attendee.
"We have to repair our bridges first," asserted Sondra Eisenman, branch manager of First Keystone Bank, Chadds Ford. "They're in terrible shape."
Of the 25,000 bridges in Pennsylvania, about one quarter are "structurally deficient," Boccuto said; repairing them will gobble up half of PennDOT's $10 billion budget from 2009 through 2012.
Section 100 has just two bridges - one over a culvert near Pyle Road and the Delaware state line, and the High Street bridge, which Boccuto pronounced in decent shape.
Another concern is any effort to reduce Route 202 traffic by pushing it onto smaller roads, most ill-equipped to handle much more traffic right now.
Said Joe Barakat, volunteer Chadds Ford roadmaster and a township planning commission member, "I'd rather have people driving on Route 202 than going 45 miles per hour on Oakland, Ring, Webb, Ridge or Harvey roads" - all rural with no sidewalks and little or no shoulder, he said.