Another round of discussions between Carbon County professionals and Mahoning Township supervisors over sidewalks in the Packerton Yards project ended in the discussion being tabled but not before both sides showed some signs of possibly getting closer to a compromise over the disputed issue in the plan.
While supervisors voted 4-0 to table the motion for two weeks, the purpose of the action was to allow supervisors time to digest the hour long discussion which at times had a slight edge to it as they debated with the county over the solution to the walkway situation.
"I want to have a chance to review what we discussed here tonight before I am ready to vote on it," said Supervisor Frank Ruch prior to making the motion that ended the discussion for the evening. Chairperson John Wieczorek seconded the motion that passed with no opposition.
The latest debate over the sidewalks in the Packerton Yards project began when Wieczorek questioned Carbon Engineer Ron Tirpak over an exchange of letters between his firm and PennDOT over a traffic study in which he pointed out that PennDOT disputed the county's claim that there was no pedestrian traffic during their traffic study performed by a third party while plans were being developed. In PennDOT's original response, they claimed their officials saw pedestrian traffic. In a later response letter date October 21, 2011, Carbon Engineering stated the issue was resolved with PennDOT after several changes were made in the plan design as well as noting some of the constraints that were considered.
"I got a response back from Mike [Tirpak] explaining the response but I didn't understand it," Wieczorek said after which he read the letter which sounded a bit technical in nature. Tirpak explained that several iterations occurred between the original plan and the one that PennDOT finally accepted which satisfied the comments in the state's letter. Wieczorek asked if the road has shoulders and Tirpak responded that it did except for a bridge on the property where one shoulder was less than four feet while the other side was a bit greater. He told the board the plan eventually satisfied PennDOT.
Wieczorek told Tirpak the extension they agreed to was for the county to develop some plan that showed walkways from Route 209 to the cul-de-sac at the end of Business Park Drive in the development but noted there was no walkway from 209 to the railroad crossing although there was a walkway from the crossing throughout the park. Tirpak said the plan showed the entire trail they were proposing. "But there is nothing to 209," answered Wieczorek.
Wieczorek told Tirpak the planning commission wanted a walkway from Route 209 throughout the park as well as a separation between it and the road. He said from what he saw the separation looked like it could occur on most of the walkway. Tirpak answered, "Possibly", but his other comments throughout the discussion indicated the county did not seem inclined to separate the walkways from the shoulders.
"How do they gain access to that [the walkway that doesn't start until after the railroad crossing]?, " asked Wieczorek. "Do they cross the open space?"
Carbon County Chair Wayne Nothstein said he felt those using the walking trail would already be in the park and asked Wieczorek where he expected the people using the trail would park. Wieczorek said they could also be walking along 209 to gain access to the trail. Nothstein said the one end of the trail should connect to the Delaware and Lehigh Heritage Corridor trail but the other end really has nowhere to go.
Wieczorek then asked them about the insurance they obtained to indemnify the railroad for the crossing and the right of way that extends fifty feet beyond it. He asked who was responsible if someone gets injured. While Nothstein initially said the county was not covering the railroad, Tirpak corrected him and acknowledged there was a half million dollar general liability policy that would cover the railroad.
Wieczorek asked if the county was going to provide insurance to the township as well for accidents in the park. Packerton Yards counsel Edward Kelly said they would look into that with their insurer. Tirpak suggested that "No Pedestrian Traffic" signs be placed along 209 into the park to discourage people from walking down to the railroad crossing, but Wieczorek said there was no walkway there for any pedestrians to use.
"We won't accommodate pedestrian traffic there for safety reasons," said Tirpak. "There's no walkway on 209 to get there," added Nothstein. "There's the shoulder of the highway just like in your plan. What would it cost to do something from 209?"
Tirpak estimated the costs would be about $180,000 for the walkways in the park and about $55,000 to Route 209 from the bridge.
Supervisor Linda Benner said she couldn't imagine that with the industries they are planning to have in the development how the county could assume there would be no pedestrians there.
Tirpak said the road into the park from Route 209 was not meant for pedestrians, but Wieczorek asked why the railroad's indemnification mentioned them. Tirpak said the policy was only for vehicles, but the township chair said the policy also identifies individual fatalities. The engineer rebutted pointing out that the fatalities could come from a vehicle accident as well. He told the supervisors the railroad wanted to protect itself in case somebody was walking there anyway.
Steigerwalt also asked about whether they would be adding crosswalks at the intersection "from day one" as no light would be immediately required. Tirpak said, "Not until a light is required." Ruch asked again once the light is warranted whether the county would be installing crosswalks. Tirpak said there was no sidewalk to which they would lead. "You have a light at Normal Square. Is there a sidewalk there?", he asked.
Ruch responded, "Where would the people go?" Tirpak asked, "Where do they go at Normal Square?" to which Ruch answered he does not walk there so he did not know.
Wieczorek asked Kelly if the county code is applicable to the project as the county's counsel has claimed in previous meetings to avoid constructing the sidewalks and the county prevails, he questioned what the point of the planning commission and the township board is. "If the county code overrides everything, why didn't you just do it by now?", he asked.
Kelly said in hindsight the county probably should have done that, but it didn't because they wanted to work with the municipalities. Ruch said that Kelly has been asking for direction for the project from the supervisors and the planners for months and claiming that the board wasn't providing anything, but he pointed out that Bruce made several recommendations and the county didn't want to use any of them.
Steigerwalt said if they didn't want to solve the impasse with the board then they should go strictly by the code. He then asked the solicitor if the township could withdraw all the waivers and let the courts decide making the statement in the form of a motion. Solicitor Tom Nanovic said it was not proper to do that since the plans were not revised enough to warrant re-examining the waivers so the motion died for lack of a second.
Kelly asked what material the township required for the walkways. Supervisor Bruce Steigerwalt said he wanted to see a hard surface five foot wide separated from the shoulder of the road. Nothstein asked if bituminous would be okay and he responded it would but right now the plans were calling for a trail mix. He said the plan shows a six foot shoulder with a four foot designated walkway and only a two foot shoulder.
"I'm not happy with what I see because it's not what we wanted," Steigerwalt said.
Kelly said the requirement to which Steigerwalt was referring was a block requirement and not applicable to this development. Steigerwalt said, "We bent over backwards to grant the waivers we have given. We allowed the length of the road [to the cul-de-sac]."
Nothstein asked if they could use the bituminous surface from 209 to the bridge, but Tirpak pointed out there was not enough room for a five foot wide walkway there. Steigerwalt asked if the walkway could be moved to the south side of the road. Tirpak said they needed eleven foot shoulders coming in from Route 209 to handle the turning radii of the trucks. He pointed out that the county was putting a premium road in to handle these trucks using 8 inches of material for the road surface instead of the typical four inches required by the township.
Wieczorek redirected the conversation to the walkways again pointing out that no matter how many signs are placed to discourage pedestrian traffic it will still happen. Kelly said that was why they did not want to put a trail or walkway in there. Wieczorek responded by saying the county said the trails early on would be an amenity that would be wonderful to use as a trail along the Lehigh. Wieczorek said he expected when they asked for the extension that they were going to return with a plan that showed the walkway from Route 209 throughout the park. Kelly said they did not commit to anything specific for a walking trail or a sidewalk.
Ruch said Kelly has been using the two terms interchangeably and he felt it was clouding the issue. Kelly proposed pedestrian traffic could use the shoulders of the road from Route 209 into the bridge and then pick up the bituminous walking trail into the park. Tirpak suggested the shoulder could be painted with a walkway.
Wieczorek asked what the county would do if the courts were left with the decision and the ruling would be to install sidewalks how that would affect the project. Tirpak said if that happened the project could die.
Steigerwalt asked Kelly and Tirpak to put this new proposed option in writing as a note on the plan. Tirpak said the walkway could be painted on the shoulder into the park and then after the bridge it would become a four foot trail that could be five foot where it fit through to the cul-de-sac.
Wieczorek asked what the board wanted to do at that point and after a brief discussion they decided the plan should return again to the planning commission for their recommendations, but Steigerwalt who is a member of that board as well indicated he believed the commission would stand by what they were recommending all along and that it would not do anything for the process. Benner said she felt it should go to them anyway.
Ruch then moved to table the discussion to review the points made during the meeting before making his decision. The motion carried 4-0.