The Best Solution: Easing Local Roadway Congestion
After decades of debate and numbers crunching, construction has finally begun on the Route 202 Parkway
by Joan Schultz

A groundbreaking ceremony that took place a year ago in Montgomery Township marked the beginning of a new roadway—and an end to decades of planning and controversy. Instead of the long-awaited and long-debated freeway called the 202 Bypass, work has begun to build a scaled down version, the Route 202 Parkway.

The new road will stretch a little more than eight miles, mostly one lane in each direction, from Welsh Road (Route 63) in Montgomeryville, to Route 611 in Doylestown, and will be built along the corridor between Upper State and Stump roads.

User friendly design
With a speed limit of 40 mph and intersections equipped with traffic signals and left-turning lanes, the parkway is scheduled to open by the end of 2011, and is projected to carry up to around 28,000 vehicles a day over the next ten years. Pedestrians and cyclists will enjoy a new 12-foot wide path that will run alongside the entire 8.4-mile length, with trailheads at parking areas along the route.

Intended to relieve existing traffic congestion in the corridor, the parkway was designed with no driveways or other access points that would cause interference for the adjacent communities, according to Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) Assistant Press Secretary Eugene Blaum. “We needed additional capacity, and our aim was to have more traffic move as smoothly and as safely as possible,” he says.

Blaum also notes that the parkway design, which includes bridges with a traditional stone appearance, wetlands preservation sites, landscaped medians and other aesthetic features, was brought about with cooperation from local municipalities. “It’s critical to get local support and input, have a dialogue, hear concerns and build consensus,” he says.

A long time coming
Since the late 1960s, the idea of a new road to relieve traffic congestion along the corridor between the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers had been on the table, and since the 1980s, local townships have worked to preserve rights-of-way along the site.

After environmental studies and planning commission approvals, and despite heated cause-and-effect disputes over highways and development, the design for the 202 Bypass, a four-lane highway spanning Montgomery and Bucks counties, moved forward toward approval in the late 1990s.

PennDOT put the brakes on the project, then estimated at $447 million, in April 2004. By that time, several homes in the roadway’s path already had been razed.

Nancy Albence had just relocated from Florida to Doylestown Township, when she was blind-sided by a letter from PennDOT. She says she hadn’t heard of the highway before that day, even through the title search. Her home was torn down in 2002. According to Albence, 11 homes were demolished before the final parkway plans were decided upon.

Finding a solution
Secretary of Transportation Allen Biehler remembers the situation he faced when he took over as head of PennDOT in 2003. “I was the new guy in town,” he says. “When the project came to my attention, it was a freight train on the move. A whole lot of folks had worked really hard. It was a pretty tough day to realize there was not a chance in the world that we could afford it.”

Biehler convinced state legislators and local municipalities to work together toward a viable solution. “We knew $80 million had already been spent in design and right-of-way,” Biehler says. “It came down to either stop the project or rescale.”

During the summer of 2005, Biehler pulled together a task force to hash out a new plan with a price tag of $200 million, less than half the previous estimate. “They turned the whole thing around, and scaled it so it fit the pocketbook and the footprint of the community,” he says.

With a backlog of needed repairs and not enough money for all the projects necessary to relieve traffic congestion, PennDOT is taking a fresh approach, according to Secretary Biehler.

PennDOT’s so-called Smart Transportation concept seeks to manage the financial, environmental, technological and social contexts of projects. “Before you dream up answers, ask municipalities, ‘What are your land use controls, what is your vision for the corridor?’” Biehler says. “Part of it is saying what you want the community to be like.”

Buckingham Township Supervisor Henry Rowan, a longtime vocal opponent of the 202 highway, says it’s essential that municipalities be involved in transportation planning. Acknowledging PennDOT’s efforts to include community input in recent years, he calls the Route 202 Parkway “a practical solution to a very difficult problem.”

Rowan says folks may have mistakenly assumed the scrapped four-lane highway would have been similar to the bypass that diverts thru traffic around Doylestown. “It was a whole different ball of wax. Calling it a bypass gave an illusion of what we would have,” he explains.

An item that sparked debate during the Parkway development was the suggested use of roundabouts to relieve congestion at selected locations along the parkway. After consideration, PennDOT tossed the idea out, citing traffic volumes and a lack of local support.

The Parkway will instead feature pedestrian-friendly intersections equipped with traffic signals that use video images to automatically adjust stoplight timing in response to real-life traffic demands.

For those who just can’t wait to try the new route, PennDOT has created a web site with construction updates and videogame- style animations that put the viewer in the driver’s seat. For more information, visit T

Joan Schultz is a freelance writer in Doylestown.