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With growth, we must protect safety, condition of our roads: Editorial

Posted 1/8/20

Last week’s editorial looked at some of the big stories that we see coming in 2020.

One issue we touched on only briefly will be a major issue for many years, and that is traffic increases …

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With growth, we must protect safety, condition of our roads: Editorial

Posted

Last week’s editorial looked at some of the big stories that we see coming in 2020.

One issue we touched on only briefly will be a major issue for many years, and that is traffic increases in Middletown and Lower Swatara and Londonderry townships.

In our Jan. 1 edition, we outlined the underpublicized but important role of Lower Swatara Patrol Officer Randall Richards, who is his department’s MCSAP (short for the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program) officer.

MCSAP a federal grant program that provides financial assistance to states to reduce the number and severity of accidents and hazardous material incidents involving commercial motor vehicles.

We need these trucks traveling our roads to be as safe as possible.

There are about 750 MCSAP officers statewide, including municipal officers (one in Lower Swatara and two in Middletown), State Police and the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

Before we even start to discuss the potential growth in Londonderry, there are already plans to build three more warehouses in Lower Swatara.

UPS wants to begin work on its new warehouse on North Union Street soon. Lower Swatara commissioners have approved Wilsbach Distributors’ plans for a distribution center on the corner of Longview Drive and Oberlin Road. D&H Distributing received permission to rezone the former Jednota property with the intention to build two warehouses on either side of Rosedale Avenue.

UPS officials have estimated that 150 trucks would go in and out of their facility on a daily basis, with the number increasing to 180 during peak season. D&H and Wilsbach have presented lower numbers in comparison with D&H estimating that 46 trucks would come in and out during peak season by year five of the warehouse’s construction. Wilsbach has estimated 10 to 20 trucks will come into the facility daily.

Then look at what is going on in Londonderry Township. A 1.2 million-square-foot warehouse is to be built behind the Saturday’s Market location along Route 230, along with another structure in place of Saturday’s Market. Plans to subdivide the tract of land known as Lytle Farms in Londonderry Township are in the works with the property to the north of Route 230 to be developed into a logistic facility. Land to the south would be developed as housing. Those projects will cover hundreds of acres. There is talk of developing the land behind Ed’s Landscaping in the southeast corner of the township.

That is a lot of traffic on top of what already exists.

Think about the traffic that would increase on Route 230 in Middletown not only from the Lytle Farms warehouses but from a residential community in that area.

When we talked to borough manager Ken Klinepeter in September about that issue, he knew of no correspondence with Londonderry Township about the change.

Add to that the 168-acre Woodland Hills development off North Union Street, near Middletown Area High School and Middletown Swim Club. It is being developed over 10 phases and  eventually will include 440 housing units — 150 apartments, 125 townhouses, 119 single-family detached homes, and 46 duplexes, according to plans submitted to Middletown borough.

If each of those units averages a little more than two people, that’s another 1,000 residents in the borough. We trust that they will be driving cars.

We are certainly not against development, be it residential or warehouse. But we are against a lack of planning.

This is a lot for a relatively small area to digest in the coming years, and it covers three municipalities. Those municipalities, however, are tied together when it comes to traffic.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation weighs in on projects involving state roads. For example, when it comes to the warehouse planned for behind Saturday’s Market, a traffic impact study examined eight nearby intersections, and adding the warehouse showed all levels of service would be acceptable to PennDOT criteria, according to the project engineer.

We are skeptical of how all this will work, considering traffic at Route 230 and Deodate Road, just down the road, has been a safety concern for years.

We haven’t even mentioned the wear and tear on these roads that this increase in traffic will cause.

And there is pedestrian safety as well. Last month, Middletown police called our attention to what they considered an “alarming” increase in traffic accidents in the borough. The intersection of Vine and Main streets had been the scene of multiple accidents recently.

Guess what intersection likely will see an increase in truck traffic from Londonderry when the Lytle plans come to fruition? Yep, you got it — Main and Vine, because truckers will want to get quickly to Route 283.

Londonderry resident and truck driver Thom Bell said during a Sept. 3 public hearing that “Middletown isn’t going to be very happy with this truck traffic going to Vine Street.”

All we are asking for is some planning, because the growth is coming. The affected groups need to sit down and make sure everyone is on the same page. Drivers are like flowing water — they both find the fastest way to get somewhere.

What is the long-term effect of the growth this area will see this decade? How can we keep roads safe and well-maintained? What improvements or additions do we need to area roads?

Elected and state officials need to keep these questions in mind, or we will have some major problems in the 2020s and beyond.