Penndel residents are concerned about the plan to improve Business Route 1

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When George Thompson opened an auto repair shop in Penndel in 1921, he set it up in a brick garage on the Lincoln Highway, a dirt road covered in oil to keep out dust.

Now, 101 years later, the Lincoln Highway is part of a busy and paved corridor also known as Business Route 1 because it runs through the city.

George’s great-grandson Len Thompson was busy running the family business there on Wednesday, which is still in the same brick building. But the problems are different now than years ago, and Thompson is worried about the future of the road and his business as the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation plans to improve the freeway.

“I’m concerned about safe access to our driveway,” he said as he and his son Michael, 18 — the fifth generation of Thompson men involved in the business — stood outside as cars and trucks sped by.

The heart of the tiny Penndel neighborhood sits right where the Lincoln Highway intersects Durham Road (Route 413) and Bellevue Avenue (Route 513), forming a triangle in downtown. Around 17,000 vehicles cross the motorway there every day.

Now, with federal funds, PennDOT plans to invest $2.5 million in safety improvements for the freeway and these important intersections. That’s $900,000 more than the transportation agency originally needed for the project.

PennDOT crash data shows numerous crashes have occurred along the Lincoln Highway in the county. The curve in the road can contribute to poor visibility for drivers. Some collisions involved left-turn events, others involved drivers running red lights. And there have been accidents involving vehicles and pedestrians in the middle of the block for the past five years.

“The improvements along this stretch of road will address some of the correctable reportable accident types documented over the five-year period between 2016 and 2020, which is a key focus of the project,” said PennDOT spokesperson Brad Rudolph.

But at a crowded Penndel Council meeting last week, local residents objected to PennDOT’s plan to convert the southbound left lane to left-turn lanes at various intersections and keep through traffic in the right lane. Local residents said it would cause traffic delays and other safety concerns.

Mayor Tom Sodano told PennDOT advisors who presented the plan that 90% of the city’s people had not heard of an earlier meeting. ‚ÄúThis is the first time people in this city are seeing something like this. It needs input from the public who drive it every day,” he said.

More:PennDOT plans to overhaul Route 1 and expand the section of Route 413 in Langhorne. That’s why the locals are concerned

He said frustrated drivers in backups in the one through lane would start driving against each other once they got to where the road opens into two lanes.

Consultants Vincent DeFlavia from Traffic Planning and Design Inc. and Nate Parrish from HNTB explained the project using a map and answered questions from the audience.

Holding a toddler, resident asked Marilyn Fox how the plan came about. She is a civil engineer. She questioned whether federal grants for the project would address additional safety concerns for pedestrians, including sidewalks along the roadway near a creek where “a lot of people walk.” It’s very dangerous,” she said.

She asked how the improvements would address backlogs caused by vehicles becoming a local donut shop. And she asked about the timing and coordination of traffic lights, not just in the borough, but with those in nearby Middletown.

“You could get security enhancements to actually make this safe,” she later said.

Other local residents also questioned pedestrian safety and how police vehicles and fire engines would get through in emergencies before the presentation ended.

Security project to cost $2.5 million

On Tuesday, Rudolph presented a list of all pedestrian and vehicle safety concerns, including the problem with left turns and the difficulty for trucks turning off side streets onto the freeway, the lack of pedestrian sidewalks on some sections of the Lincoln Highway, and high speeds on the nearby Legrande Avenue.

While the project plan’s use of left-turn lanes to increase safety will reduce through traffic to just one southbound lane, Rudolph said the corridor would have two through lanes heading north to the Interstate 95 entrance in Middletown.

“The primary focus of this project is driver and pedestrian safety,” Rudolph said.

Highly visible crosswalks and audible pedestrian signals at signalized intersections, and phasing of traffic signals at Lincoln’s Bellevue and Durham intersections are also planned. And a new sidewalk to fill a gap on southbound Lincoln just north of Durham Road will be installed.

In response to a question from local residents about PennDOT’s work on the Route 1 Expressway at nearby Middletown and Langhorne Manor, Rudolph said planned improvements to its Route 413 interchange should not affect traffic in Penndel.

Construction bids for the Penndel project should be published in July 2023. The plan “is expected to reduce accidents by up to 35 percent and improve pedestrian access,” Rudolph said.

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