My Way or the Highway

Last weekend, I drove through the redesigned intersection of Camp Hill Road and Pennsylvania Avenue near Ft. Washington, PA. The construction project was finally over. On the transportation enhancement side of the ledger, the sightlines are much better, two traffic lights have been merged into one, and ample turn lanes have been provided to significantly smooth traffic flows. Also, the grade on Camp Hill Road is more gradual where it had been very steep before. I had dreaded coming down that hill in the wintertime, now I do not. So the intersection is much safer. Actually, from an engineering perspective, the solution to the previous safety problems is pretty clever. They basically raised both roadways.

On the environmental side of the ledger, the benefits are less obvious. Many trees (I guess a couple of hundred) were taken out to essentially move the hill and widen the roads. In fairness, it looks like that there was some environmental mitigation done. The remaining hill looks like it has been landscaped. There is also a new water retention pond nearby. I do not like the apparent environmental impacts, but the safety improvements are significant.

I think most roadway projects tend to have limited (if any) environmental benefits. However, one newly opened roadway not very far from me does have clear environmental benefits (vs merely environmental damage mitigation). This particular project is next door to the famous Longwood Gardens.

I should mention that Longwood Gardens is one of my favorite places. I love the variety of gardens there—both the indoor one and the outdoor ones. I also love the fact that my toddler son has a great time whenever we go there. I know I am close when I cross Route 926 and see the big meadow along Route 52. So I was more than a little puzzled when I drove there last month only to find that my meadow was missing. I know my toddler can run off at a moment’s notice, but a runaway meadow? Something was going on.

It turns out that the PA Dept of Transportation had moved the Route 52 I was used to a quarter mile to the east. The old road did not meet current roadway design and safety standards. Unlike most highway projects, this one had an explicit sustainability component–the creation of approximately 23 acres of new trees and the restoration of the natural flow of Pocopson Creek. This was due to a partnership created between Longwood and PennDOT. Longwood provided some funding and design assistance for the reforestation. PennDOT, of course, designed and built the new road.

The 23 acres translates to over 11,000 trees and 30,000 shrubs—many of which will be sourced locally. The specific types of trees and shrubs planted were designed to work together to create an environment that can blend with an existing meadow at the edge of Longwood Gardens. There will also be wetlands with a boardwalk, so I assume there will be public access at some point.

The transportation success of the Route 52 project will be fairly quickly apparent. The success of the reforestation will not be fully evident in 1 year, or in 5 years, but in 50 years. It is very interesting that Longwood is essentially looking for not a 1 year impact, or a 5 year impact, but a 50 year impact.

It would be nice to see every roadway project be judged on both the transportation enhancements and environmental benefits many years (50) down the road. However, I am probably being more than a little bit optimistic in that wish. If there are any road projects being built with both the long term transportation and environmental benefits being deemed equally important, I would love to hear about them.

Sustainability at Longwood Gardens:

http://www.longwoodgardens.org/SustainabilityatLongwood.html/

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