The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court recently ruled that PennDOT met its burden to condemn agricultural property for a project in Lebanon County. In Dept. of Transp. v. Agricultural Lands Condemnation Approval Board, PennDOT sought to condemn productive agricultural lands for a transportation use. Pursuant to the Farmland Protection Policy Act, the Agricultural Lands Condemnation Approval Board considered the PennDOT project. It found that PennDOT did not prove that there was no reasonable and prudent alternative to the alternative selected by PennDOT and denied PennDOT’s request to use its condemnation power to acquire the lands. On appeal, the Commonwealth Court reversed holding that the Board acted capriciously and ignored overwhelming evidence that there was no reasonable and prudent alternative to the condemnation of the lands.
Planning for the last phases of the Marshalls Creek Bypass Project – which PennDOT now calls the “Marshalls Creek Traffic Relief Project” – continues. The project was put on hold in April due to funding issues. PennDOT held a public meeting in October to discuss the options for this phase of the project which can be viewed at www.marshallscreekbypass.com/index.cfm
PennDOT posted the following update on January 2, 2009 on its website:
Project Milestones Reached
• PennDOT submitted the Final Traffic Reports to FHWA on November 24, 2008.
• PennDOT submitted the Final EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) Re-Evaluation on November 26, 2008.
• The Kick-Off Meeting for Final Design was held on December 2, 2008.
• A meeting for the Section 106 Programmatic Agreement (environmental/historical compliance agreement) amendment was held on December 4, 2008, with FHWA, SHPO (State Historic Preservation Office), and PennDOT's District and Central offices.
• The Phase III Archaeology report was delivered to FHWA and PHMC on December 30, 2008.
• A Right-of-Way review meeting was held at the PennDOT District Office on December 30, 2008.
• The Park-and-Ride project bids were reviewed and there is an apparent low bidder (Leeward Construction of Honesdale).
• Core borings have begun and will continue through February 1, 2009.
Upcoming Project Milestones
• The Environmental Review and Permitting will continue to be the challenge when trying to advance the Design/Build contract.
• Rettew Associates is scheduling a preliminary meeting with the permitting agencies for the “bypass” portion of the project.
• The Dewberry Team continues to advance the Final Design.
• The next Bi-Monthly Coordination Meeting is set for January 13, 2009.
• Park-and-Ride lot construction to begin in the spring and last one construction season.
Funds for widening Route 202 on the section of the highway that runs from near Route 29 to the Exton Bypass will be delayed until at least 2011. The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission voted 17-1 to wait until 2011 to begin releasing the PennDOT funds needed to widen this section of the highway. PennDOT’s current plans for this section – known as “Section 300 – anticipate expanding from four to six lanes. It appears that this delay is another example of budget concerns being felt at PennDOT. PennDOT made a decision this year to focus its funding on projects involving bridge repairs.
Rendell has asked the General Assembly to approve this plan which he estimates will require state funding of an additional $200 million a year for three years, to be combined with federal road repair funds. The "structurally deficient" bridges include 91 in Southeastern Pennsylvania including 35 in Bucks County, 26 in Chester County, 15 in Montgomery County, nine in Philadelphia, and six in Delaware County. Most are smaller bridges.
It is unclear at this time whether the General Assembly will approve this project. According to press accounts, Senate Republicans acknowledged repairs were necessary but expressed reluctance to borrow more funds. This issue will likely by an important part of budget negotiations.
Businesses and residential properties will be acquired for the project – either amicably or through the eminent domain process. I spoke with the outside consultant for the project who told me the acquisition for the project will be in about 2 years. However, we always counsel our clients to engage in “pre-condemnation” planning. This involves a number of potential actions including working with PennDOT to see if you can avoid losing your property. However, most planning involves taking steps to ensure that you receive the maximum payment for your property if it is condemned.