Dude, Where’s My Traffic Light?

 

       At Route 191 and Friedenstahl Avenue

 

What does it take to get a stop light installed at an intersection with a lot of congestion?  Well, in Upper Nazareth Township, it takes fifteen years and counting.

The corner of Route 191 and Friedenstahl Avenue is a hot spot for accidents. This intersection handles school buses, town traffic, people going to and from Route 33, plus all the residents from new developments. The need to update the infrastructure in this area was proposed fifteen years ago, plans to get it done continued during the construction of the Middle School, then proceeded to a very serious attempt in 2010. 

Residents were assured that a stop light would be in place by August 2015. The odds on getting it done this time seemed good because a lot of the funding had been secured, but once again all our local government delivered was disappointment.

A History in Frustration

According to the superintendent, Dennis Riker, several years ago the school district gave the township $500,000 to come up with a plan for a traffic light. The township took the money and paid over $300,000 to Keystone Engineering for blueprints. When the supervisors saw the cost estimates in 2010, they cancelled the project, but the congestion, inconvenience, and traffic accidents continued.

So the school district hired Newton Engineering to rework the plans, and come up with a way to make the installation more affordable. State representative Joe Emrick applied for a grant and, in November 2014, secured $500,000 in funding to help pay for the light. At this point it seemed as if the project was back on. Newton Engineering would file the reworked plans with PennDOT in February 2015, then put the project out to bid. The hope was to start construction during the summer of 2015 when school wasn’t in session to avoid traffic from school buses and parent pickups.

Sequence of Progress/Delays in 2015

Things looked good in March. Al Kortze, township engineer, gave a report on the storm pipes, which would have to be moved, and said he expected the engineering plans to be submitted to PennDOT by the end of the month.

The community looked forward to getting this long-running problem solved, and assumed progress was being made. Then, on May 22nd, Emrick put out a press release, demanding “an apology from local engineers for their inability to make significant progress toward installing a traffic light at the dangerous Route 191-Friedenstahl Avenue intersection in Upper Nazareth Township.” Emrick pointed out that “Keystone Engineering has billed the district $316,866.45 in services but not one shovel has broken ground.”

Things got tense on June 3rd when Emrick showed up at the township meeting in full outrage mode, demanding supervisors explain why progress on the traffic light had stalled. He bragged about having regular communication with the engineer and the school district, going into detail about the number and timing of his meetings with them, but hadn’t picked up the phone to talk to a township supervisor. For some reason, probably related to politics, he preferred to air this dirty laundry in public with the media in attendance.

Township solicitor, Gary Asteak, informed Emrick that the township had only recently taken over the project from the school district, had not written the contract with Newton Engineering, nor signed it. The money for the new plans had come out of the school’s escrow account—the supervisors hadn’t approved any of it.

Emrick pointed out that the $500,000 grant he’d secured for this project in November 2014 would expire in 9 months. (This was June 2015, which means, if the project isn’t started by March 2016, that money could be lost).

Editor’s Note: At the Dec 2nd meeting, Township Manager Edward Mentry issued a statement saying he had reviewed the grant, and it would be good as long as construction began by June 2017.  He had no explanation for why Joe Emrick misrepresented his own grant.

At the meeting on June 3rd, the supervisors admitted that they had no identifiable timetable for the traffic light, but announced that they would get a copy of the contract from the school district and, from that point on, all bills would go through the supervisors. The supervisors assumed full control of the project at this point.

Took Them Long Enough

Newton Engineering finally submitted their plans to PennDOT on June 10th (*). Initially, things seemed positive. At the July 15th meeting, Supervisor Ytkin indicated construction would start soon, and that the township would call a public meeting to discuss the installation and traffic changes with a representative from the township, school district, and Newton Engineering available to answer questions.  Gary Asteak reported that the construction easement paperwork had been prepared in order to avoid delaying the project and that traffic detours for before and after school hours had been reviewed. The project would begin as soon as PennDOT released the HOP (Highway Occupancy Permit).

And It All Comes to a Screeching Halt

At the August 19th meeting, Mr. Ytkin revised his estimated completion date to July 2016.

At the September meeting, Mr. Asteak said that engineering revisions had been filed with PennDOT, and that Emrick had called them to expedite the review.

 By November, the supervisors were no longer even putting the project on the agenda. They announced they would only give an update about the traffic light if a resident asked a direct question about it which is how attendees at the Nov. 18th meeting found out there’d been yet another accident in that intersection earlier in the week.

A Glimmer of Light?

At the December 2nd meeting, Ytkin stated that the township expects approval of their specs by sometime next week with the project going out to bid in January. He plans to run ads on January 11th and 15th and estimates awarding the bid by February 17th with construction to be completed by the start of September 2016.

It all sounds encouraging, but we’ve heard these promises before.

What will the light cost and where’s the money coming from?

Until the project is put out to bid, the final cost won’t be known. However, at the June 3rd meeting, the construction estimate was reported as being between $725,000 to $1,250,000 (these amounts may not include costs for the engineering plans)

According to Betty Parish, the township treasurer, Upper Nazareth has:

  • $500,000 from a grant secured by Joe Emrick
  • $351,000 from a different grant
  • ~$100,000 set aside in the General Fund
  • $951,000 – Total

 

References:

Township Minutes:

http://uppernazarethtownship.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Approved-Regular-Meeting-Minutes-20151.pdf

Express Times article on Joe Emrick’s statements at the June 3, 2015 meeting.

http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/nazareth/index.ssf/2015/06/state_representative_demands_a.html

*From Joe Emrick’s May 22, 2015 Press Release

  • February 2, 2015 – Emrick spoke with Nazareth School District engineer Harold “Bud” Newton, president of Newton Engineering who told him “another three or four weeks of advance work is needed.”
  • March 9, 2015 – Emrick asked for an update from Newton, who said “60 percent of the project’s advance work is done.” Newton added he’ll need another two weeks to finish.
  • March 25, 2015 – Newton told Emrick the advance work was “80-85 percent complete.”
  • April 1, 2015 – Emrick filed a right-to-know request in hopes of advancing the project.

 

Becky Bartlett is a Upper Nazareth Resident and covers these issues because the public has the right to be informed about what their government is doing.

 

 

 


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