Ephrata braces for more traffic BY KIMBERLY MARSELAS, Correspondent
With a new Giant Food store and more than a dozen other shops, restaurants and banks slated to open along Route 322 this year, there's little doubt traffic is about to get worse in Ephrata Township.
But the responsibility for making extensive upgrades to the two-lane highway between Bethany Road and the intersection with Route 222 didn't fall to the developers of the large-scale Ephrata Marketplace. Instead, it will be up to future developers to foot the bill for widening the road and adding new turn lanes.
Officials representing PIM Commercial Development learned that the hard way Tuesday, Feb. 5, when they asked the township's board of supervisors to support alternate, less expensive improvements.
PIM wants to develop a site on the east side of the Route 322 and Pleasant Valley Road intersection, with initial plans calling for a bank, fast-food restaurant and pharmacy. But the original traffic improvements called for by the state Department of Transportation would make the project "infeasible," according to engineers for PIM and the township.
The cost of creating a double turn lane at Route 222 would approach $600,000 alone, which is not a cost-effective solution, according to Mark Henise, an engineer representing PIM principal.
In such situations -- or those in which the upgrades are physically impossible -- PennDOT has created a new process that allows developers to propose their own improvements.
Following a traffic-impact study, PIM proposed making some of the state-mandated changes, but swapping in other less-expensive alternatives, such as new signal-light timing or turn lanes at different intersections.
Henise and Rick Stauffer of PIM had asked the township for "concurrence," essentially signaling that local officials would accept the less-expensive plans.
The supervisors, while acknowledging Stauffer's financial constraints, said they could not sign off on a plan that failed to address major problems on Route 322.
"I feel we should leave it in PennDOT's hands and get the best we can get for the township," Supervisor Ty Zerbe said.
Member John Weber said that to have less roadwork than what is typically required by the state would not be "in the best interests of Ephrata Township or the commuting public."
Township engineer Ben Webber called the congested area a "daunting challenge." Several other lots along the highway are zoned commercial, but past efforts to cost-share major improvements fell through.
Last summer, township Manager Steve Sawyer met with officials to try to get Route 322 onto a regional traffic improvement list that prioritizes state and national funding.
Sawyer said in an interview that Ephrata Marketplace developers were not required to make off-site improvements because traffic studies indicated the project would not generate enough new trips to trigger PennDOT's requirement. But PIM's project would add just enough cars to take the number of vehicles beyond a pre-established threshold.
Chairman Clark Stauffer said he might be willing to reconsider PIM's request in two years, after the Marketplace stores are fully operational and its impact on traffic is evident. PennDOT could, however, accept PIM's alternative plan even without the township's consent.
In other action Feb. 5, the board declined to take legal action on behalf of the Charity Gardens Unit Owners' Association. Residents are in a dispute with their neighborhood's developer over a $50,000 stormwater-management fund that was supposed to be maintained by the developer until last October.
Stauffer said he was convinced that developer E&L Martin Family Partnership owed the association about $32,000, but that he did not want to spend taxpayer money to see a 2005 agreement enforced.
Association President Connell O'Brien called that an "unfortunate message to folks who make agreements with the township."
Stauffer said he would try to speak with Martin and ask him to reach a financial agreement with the residents outside of a courtroom.
The board also approved final subdivision plans for Copperwood Lane, a new, 11-house development that will be located next to the township building off Akron Road.
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