Route 52/U.S. 1 work shifts to high gear

As roadway is moved and new intersections built, the disruption of traffic could play havoc locally.

By P.J. D’Annunzio and Mike McGann, Staff Writers,

Signs like these may become common sights as roadways, such as Route 926, are likely to be closed for extended periods during the Route 52 realignment project.

For area residents, it’s going to be a classic “good news-bad news” scenario over the next six to eight months when it comes to the movement of Route 52 and the rebuilding of intersections at Route 926 and Route 52, as well as those at Route 52 and U.S. 1.

The good news: by 2012 safer roads that are better designed to handle the volume of traffic in the area. The bad news: a series of road closures that could tie up local traffic in Kennett, Pennsbury, East Marlborough and Pocopson from late summer into the fall.

The upcoming closure of the intersection of Route 52 and 926 comes as a result of the redevelopment of Longwood Gardens’ property and Longwood’s more than two decade desire to connect two tracts separated by the current Route 52.

“Longwood Gardens wanted to have continuous property not separated by a road so that they could open it up to their customers,” said Kennett Township Board of Supervisors Chairman Alan Falcoff, “and of course the current location of 52 killed that, so it’s going to be demolished and then Longwood would be able to develop the surrounding portions of land as part of the garden per se.”

And while to work to date has only caused a handful of temporary closures and detours, more significant traffic impacts are coming in the months ahead, according to Frank Eelis, a project engineer for Gannett Fleming, the construction contractor that won the bid from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) to rebuild the roadways.

While U.S. will see some lane closures, as new third lanes are being built north and south along the roadway between Longwood Gardens and Rt. 52 South in Hammorton, plans are for closures of Route 926 on either side of Route 52 for extended periods, as construction continues and the intersection is completely re-engineered.

Construction work continues near the current intersection of Routes 52 and 926, but road closures could lead to traffic disruptions.

The east side of Rt. 926 will be closed first, for about seven weeks, Eelis said, likely in late August or early September. The west side of the roadway will be closed for about five weeks, later in the fall. Rt. 52 is expected to remain open — except for some night time closures for utility work later this month — throughout the process, although traffic is expected to be moved to the new roadway this fall, as work is completed.

While there will likely be some traffic headaches for motorists in Pennsbury, East Marlborough and Pocopson, the improvements should improve both safety and traffic flow on all three roads, Eelis said. One of the immediate benefits will be better light timing and traffic flow at the 926/52 intersection, he noted.

While the project, estimated at $15 million, largely from federal and state highway funding — although Longwood did pay for much of the study and design work — has been long in the making, a little under a year into the project, it’s on schedule to be completed by 2012.

“Longwood Gardens paid a lot of money for this so it’s expediting the process. But they are not footing the whole bill. They were instrumental in the design and preliminary engineering of it. (former U.S. Senator) Rick Santorum actually, before his reelection presented the state with a million dollar check to help with this activity,” Falcoff said.

For the region, the redesign of U.S. 1 and the new intersections with Route 52 should have a major impact on an area where traffic routinely backs up and has been fraught with accidents for decades.

The new intersection location will feature new signals and turning lanes — including two left turn lanes onto Route 52 North. The traffic signals on US-1 will be synchronized from Chadds Ford to Kennett Borough.

“This is actually a real improvement. There are more accidents on this stretch of road [US-1] than anywhere else in the township. We look forward to these new signals and lane layouts as helpful to us,” Falcoff said.

So far there have been five accidents reported for the current intersection of US-1 and Route 52 this year, including one fatality. However, even as some township officials feel that the implementation of new traffic lights and turning lanes at the new location of the intersection will help decrease the amount of accidents, the safety of traffic running through the smaller local roads running parallel to US-1 could be compromised, while work goes on — whether it be Unionville-Lenape Road in Pocopson and East Marlborough or Hillendale Road in Pennsbury and Kennett townships.

“We’re going to see more cut-through or bypass traffic on our local roads. This is a major concern we have,” Falcoff said, “What we’re seeing with all the construction is more traffic on our parallel roads, and these are township roads they’re not state roads.”

Falcoff went on to reiterate that the local township roads, such as those in Kennett Township, do not have the traffic control that the major state roads possess and therefore the potential for accidents on them, with the increased volume of vehicular travel, is higher.

The local mushroom industry is also expected to impact the flow of vehicular volume on the smaller roads as well, contributing to traffic with commercial trucks, as trucks seek to avoid traffic congestions on U.S. 1.

“The mushroom packing houses and soil distributors already utilize the side roads for smaller truck transport,” Falcoff said, “We could potentially see larger trucks [18 wheelers] on the roads, but again we have some roads that are truck restricted so they cannot travel down them.”

Truck restricted roads are usually smaller roads with extremely tight curves that would increase the difficulty for larger semi-type trucks to stay within the designated lanes. Such roads include Marshall Bridge Road, Bayard Road, and Chandler’s Mill Road.
However, Falcoff remains optimistic that the end result of the relocation of the intersection will be beneficial to Kennett Township.

“I think this is good news. I think it’s going to help decrease accidents because of the use of modern road design techniques and signals. I think it’s a real improvement,” he said.

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