BY DEBORAH HOSTETTER
It’s tough to judge what’s worse: planning ahead to get to work on time or bouncing through jarring potholes on the way. Lancaster city residents can relate in both cases. A series of recent municipal renovations alongside current projects initiated by UGI and Penndot have made the city and its surrounding roads a less then smooth experience lately.
“Going to work is almost always frustrating and I just dread it sometimes, because I don’t know where they’ll be blocking up the roads next,” said actress Lauren Zehr, who has to commute through Lancaster on her way to work at Rainbow Dinner Theater, located outside of town on Route 30 east.
“I always have to keep an eye out for potholes because hitting them on my bike is super painful,” noted Mike Beiler, who daily rides his motorcycle in the city. Like many other residents, Zehr and Beiler get a first-hand taste of construction fallout, but they don’t understand the reasons for it.
Deputy Director of Public Works/City Engineer Rob Ruth was able to provide an insider’s perspective to the high number of construction projects currently going on in Lancaster. Ruth is the main overseer of the road work going on within the city limits; he and his subordinates oversee about 110 miles of city streets and are partially occupied with 11 miles of state roads. Their municipal work is closely tied to Lancaster city’s pavement management plan, which was developed to take place over a 10-year period and is currently being implemented slowly, one sector at a time.
As Ruth explained, there are several factors that have come together to create so many current construction projects in the city. Among them are difficulties in managing simultaneous road construction projects in the face of inconvenient weather conditions.
Unusual weather patterns this summer (especially excessive rainfall in June) made it difficult to do the concrete and paving tasks originally planned by the municipality for those months. It is also impossible to complete further concrete or paving work when it’s too cold, which is why laborers are trying to finish as much as possible before November, which is when concrete plants are scheduled to shut down. They won’t reopen till March.
Another aspect of road contruction projects that did not get finished on time involves the milling of Lancaster city roads.
“Lancaster city roads haven’t been properly milled,” said Ruth, “which adds a whole other aspect to the subject. Our roughly milled roads means the asphalt is really rough and bad to drive over.” Ruth added that the milling operation is intensive and expensive, and involves grinding the top surfaces of roads down several inches then doing base repair and overlay. Approximately 1.6 miles of road in the city are currently undergoing this process.
The Lititz Pike bridge project is also progressing more slowly then anticipated. Centered at Amtrak’s train station, the project is focused on turning Duke street into a two-way street. Once the workers have advanced to Liberty Street that will also be turned into a two-way. At the same time, an entirely new bridge is being built in front of the train station. The proximity and breadth of these projects have created quite a snarl, but Ruth is sure the end results will be highly rewarding.
Ruth also said that other entities besides the municipality are currently responsible for some of the other bothersome city projects in progress. The ramp work on Orange Street is being effected by Penndot, or Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation. They are operating in accordance with the ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act, which now requires special ramps to exist on city roads. Last year, Penndot finished their work on Prince and Queen Street, and as it currently stands, they need to complete another nine blocks between now and the year’s end. New Holland Pike is on their agenda for next year and after completing New Holland, they’re finished for another three years, which as Ruth said will give the city a needed break.
UGI Public Utilities Corporation is the other non-municipal company further exacerbating the stressful road conditions. UGI is replacing the gas main on Walnut Street. and Ruth said that between 2014 to 2015 they have 20 road “segments,” to finish. Furthermore, it is expected that they will be replacing various gas mains in the following 15 years, so commuters can anticipate further interference.
The municipality is also working out plans that may play out time-wise later then is ideal.
As Ruth explained, Lancaster is one of the oldest non-coastal cities in the USA. As such, it was planned through an old automobile grid system which was based on past infrastructure systems. Now the municipality is trying to promote a missing “walkability” factor, which will make it easier for people to walk and bike on city roads. They’re trying to obtain a grant which would pay to develop a billing plan so Lancaster could then implement this program, which would also produce more road disorder in the process.
Ruth pointed out that any concerned or interested resident can visit http://www.co.lancaster.pa.us/planning/cwp/view.asp?a=3&q=639152 where the municipality’s plans have been laid out in detail. He said that many Lancaster folk have expressed concern over the state of their city’s roads and are unaware of the numerous interfering factors. And they do not know how to access the explanatory information. However, Ruth also recognizes that progress comes at a cost, and he expects that the end results will be completely worth it for everyone.