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Looks like our Highway to Hell will be with us for a while

By Mike Zielinski, Host of The Mike Zielinski Show

Jul 23, 2019
Mike Zielinski

Nothing stabs so straight at what is weak in a person, and bleeds it so pale, as an absence of hope.

Alas, we are without hope that the epic disaster that is the maddening West Shore Bypass, a highway on which drivers have the potential to be both victim and executioner on every trip, will be addressed anytime soon.

PennDOT has radically changed funding formulas across the state, leaving mammoth potholes in local infrastructure funding that will cause delays to some of Berks County’s priority projects, most notably the West Shore Bypass.

Anticipated funding in Berks will be cut 25% by 2024 and 43% by 2028, according to Alan Piper of the Berks County Planning Commission. In dollar terms, Berks will be getting $239 million less than it expected to put into improvement projects by 2028.

More than likely to be delayed is the herculean project aimed at curing maddening bottlenecks and adding safety features such as a series of construction phases amounting to $650 million to widen Route 422, known to all of us as the West Shore Bypass.

Folks, this is a tragedy. I know people who would rather suck face with a rhinoceros than venture out on the West Shore Bypass, where throats gulp into mouths with frightening regularity. There is less agitation in a washing machine.

 

The plan is a complete reconstruction and widening of the West Shore Bypass from Route 12 to just east of Interstate 176 to three lanes in each direction, plus reconstruction of all bridges and interchanges to improve safety and reduce congestion.

Our kids may be grandparents before all that comes to pass.

There are three drivers of Pennsylvania’s shift in priorities for transportation projects: Revenue is shrinking. An increased focus on state bridges. An increased focus on interstate roads.

Which leaves all of twisting indefinitely in the menace of the malformed West Shore Bypass, home to maniac shrieks usually reserved for rollercoasters.

Indeed, my back teeth still sing at the memory of my near misses when the intersection of blind spots and merging vehicles is best done with cigarettes and blindfolds – if only cancer sticks didn’t cost 47 dollars a pack and blindfolds on drivers wasn’t frowned upon by police.

The West Shore Bypass is full of broken heroes and crumpled fenders, where vehicles should be referred to as suicide machines.

A crash analysis report completed in June 2014 (and I’m sure it’s worse now as the traffic volume increases) showed the crash rate for the project area exceeded the statewide average for this type of road.

Over a five-year period, the study counted 747 crashes reported along the corridor and the associated interchanges, with 557 crashes occurring on the mainline, which is the bypass excluding interchanges.

The mainline crash rate exceeded the statewide crash rate for this type of road by more than 300 percent. Congestion was cited as one of the contributing factors.

Congestion on the West Shore Bypass is putting it mildly. People with pneumonia have less congestion. No wonder accidents routinely transform the highway into a gigantic parking lot.

Whatever philosopher wrote that out of stillness comes swiftness never got stuck in a traffic jam on the West Shore Bypass.

I don’t know who designed this infamous highway, but it had to be engineers with a penchant for the macabre. The design is wickedly flawed.

For instance:

Deficient acceleration and deceleration lane lengths at the Penn Street/Penn Avenue, Lancaster Avenue and I-176 interchanges.

Left lane entrance/exit ramps at the Lancaster Avenue interchange (instead of the typical right-side ramps).

Short weave distance between the Penn Street/Penn Avenue and Lancaster Avenue interchanges that do not meet current design standards.

Queuing and maneuvering between the Lancaster Avenue interchange and Route 10 due to traffic signals.

The only perils our Highway to Hell seemingly lacks are landmines and reservoirs of quicksand.

But until PennDOT finds additional money under the governor’s mattress, I’m not going to worry about the West Shore Bypass.

After all, someday the Apocalypse will make it all a moot point.

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