Motorists hoping for relief from the nightmare rush hours on stretches of Route 202 in Chester and Montgomery Counties will apparently have to keep their engines idling for several more years.
PennDot's new emphasis on rebuilding the state's aging bridges means that highly anticipated projects such as widening Route 202 have been pushed to the back burner, where they will likely remain well into the next decade.
"We have 6,000 structurally deficient bridges that need attention," said agency spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick. "There is very little money for [road] capacity expansion."
Chester County Commissioners Chair Carol Aichele said that does not bode well either for the county's economy or its commuters.
"The safety improvements have to be addressed," she said. "The concrete is worn to the point that it's slippery."
The section she refers to is a 6.7-mile stretch between the Route 30 bypass in East Whiteland Township and North Valley Road in Tredyffrin Township that was targeted for a $175 million expansion to six lanes. With 70,000 jobs within two miles of that length of road, it is one of the backbones of the county's economy, she said.
Also deferred is a nine-mile stretch in Montgomery County between Johnson Highway on the northern edge of Norristown and Route 309 in Montgomeryvillethat is projected to cost $130 million.
Both were supposed to start in 2009.
The only section not to be deleted from a draft construction schedule released last week is a nine-mile section known as the "parkway" that will be built between Montgomeryville and Route 611 near Doylestown, said Montgomery County transportation planner Leo Bagley.
The parkway, a $150 million compromise drafted by PennDot in the wake of heavy opposition from area residents to a conventional limited-access highway, will be heavily landscaped with five-foot wide bicycle lanes on each side.
The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission released the proposed scheduled for 2009-2012 highway and bridge projects that showed work on the widening of Route 202 won't start until 2011, at the earliest.
"Big ticket projects around the state are going to be hurting for a while," said Bagley. "They have got to deal with the bridges."
Currently, a $40 million project is underway to replace six overhead bridges on the Chester County section of 202 in anticipation of the eventual road widening, said PennDot spokesman Eugene Blaum.
Traffic on the 59-mile Pennsylvania section of the road between Delaware and New Jersey ranges from 17,000 to 150,000 vehicles a day.
Chuck Davis, assistant executive for design at PennDot's regional office, said the delays and deferrals are the new reality of highway construction.
"Projects will be done in pieces as funds are available and it will probably take longer than anyone would like," he said.
Ronald Bailey, executive director of the Chester County Planning Commission, said that work on the actual widening of the roadway was pushed back and the funds reassigned because of higher-than-expected construction costs for the bridge work.
An attempt will be made to revise the draft construction schedule before it is adopted next month, said Bailey.
Jim Matthews, chairman of the Montgomery County commissioners, said that the era of depending on PennDot for all their road funds is over for counties and municipalities. Instead, it's time for new partnerships and creative funding techniques, he said.
"This is a new world," said Matthews. "We will either have some original solutions from county leadership or miserable constituents for the foreseeable future."