Eminent domain raises ire: Norristown PA Times-Herald, 3/30/07

By Carl Rotenberg

Preliminary plans for the proposed, $250 to $300 million, six-lane widening and reconstruction of the Pennsylvania Turnpike's Northeast Extension from the Mid-County to Lansdale exit were presented to several hundred local residents Thursday night at St. Helena School.

Construction on widening the 10.5-mile, four-lane highway, the busiest four-lane section of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, will start in 2008 and be completed in 2014, said Carl DeFebo, a Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission spokesman.

Residents of the Timberfare Circle cul-de-sac in Plymouth loudly objected to the proposed, "total taking" of two homes owned by Yves and Joretha Bourjolly and Anne Marie King on the circle for a required storm-water detention basin.

The commission plans to take nine properties "completely" and 150 to 200 properties "partially" to widen the roadway, said Gerald H. Rollman, commission reconstruction program coordinator.

"We're just going to lose property value with a detention pond on our street," said Dennis McGlinchey of Timberfare Circle. "We're OK with the widening. But we didn't know they were going to take down homes in the middle of our block."

"It's going to be a huge area," said Cynthia Kopaci of Timberfare Circle. "It seems it is dividing the neighborhood. It's just a shame that they can come in and do this."

One man asked if the detention basin could be built on the other side of the turnpike in the Valley Square Corporate Center.

Rollman said the original construction of the N.E. Extension more than 50 years ago did not include storm water management. The commission is required to design storm water management for the existing turnpike and the additional lanes to be built.

The six-lane roadway will have three 12-foot travel lanes northbound and southbound, a 26-foot median and 12-foot shoulders. The widening requires the replacement of seven overhead bridges at Walton Road, DeKalb Pike, Morris Road, Bustard Road, Bethel Road, Kriebel Road and Sumneytown Pike.

Construction of the Bethel and Kriebel Road bridges will require local detours around the bridgework for seven to nine months in the 2008 construction season. The one-year construction of the Walton and DeKalb Pike bridges in 2008 will require no detours.

Ten "mainline" bridges that take the turnpike over local roads will be replaced as reconstruction work on the roadbed and widening occurs from 2011 to 2014, DeFebo said.

Members of WhitpainResidents.org, a nonprofit advocacy group organized to oppose the move of Montgomery Hospital to Whitpain, gathered contact information from residents Thursday night as they arrived at the public open house.

"Our goal is to represent responsible development," said Amy Fruncillo, a WhitpainResidents.org board member. "We want the least amount of land taken and the least intrusive development."

Dave Miller, president of the Whitpain group, wanted the commission to design the detention basins with "the least impact" on the neighborhood.

"We're not sure they looked at all the alternatives," Miller said.

DeFebo said the 10.5-mile turnpike segment, with 24 million vehicles traveling north and southbound in 2006, was the busiest 4-lane section of the turnpike.

"The number of total acquisitions is amazingly low given that it is a 10.5 mile project," DeFebo said.

He said Rollman's estimate of 150 to 200 "partial takings" was made because the construction design had not been finalized yet.

A dedicated informational section of the commission's www.paturnpike.com Web site is expected to be activated this week, DeFebo said.

The proposed location and design of noise walls was questioned by several residents.

"A noise sensitive area (on the design maps) does not mean that a wall will be built there," Rollman said. "It has to meet the 'warranted, reasonable and feasible' rules for construction."

The criteria requires that a noise reduction of five dBA benefit the majority of impacted residences. The cost per residence to receive a three dBA (or greater) noise reduction cannot exceed $50,000. A community consensus is required to build a sound barrier.

"I think after this meeting that no one will be able to sell their homes," said Donna Maines of Whitpain. "Our property values will go down."

These plans will be presented again at an April 10 meeting at Pennbrook Middle School in North Wales from 6 to 9 p.m.

Norristown PA Times-Herald: http://www.timesherald.com