SOUDERTON — Part way is no way.
That was the message about the connector between Route 309 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike at Kulpsville that local officials brought to a hearing in Souderton by the Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee.
The Aug. 14 hearing focusing on transportation infrastructure was hosted by state Rep. Steve Malagari, D-53.
Discussion of the planned connector goes back decades.
The first part of the route, along Wambold Road between Route 63 (Sumneytown Pike) and Allentown Road, was completed in 2012.
"Construction of the second section is currently scheduled to begin sometime next year in 2020," Kenneth McClain, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation District 6 Executive, said during his testimony at the hearing.
That will extend it to Souderton-Hatfield Pike.
The third and final section is in the final analysis process, he said.
In answer to Maligari's question of whether there will be funding so completion of phase 2 can go directly into phase 3 and completion of the connector, though, McClain said he can't answer that at this time.
The connector, also known as the Piedmont Highway, has been talked about for decades, Hatfield Borough Manager Mike DeFinis said during testimony by a panel of local officials.
"We built half of it and stopped and now all that truck traffic is coming through these little towns," he said.
That's causing traffic problems in the towns, he said.
"We have to get it done now. It can't wait any longer," DeFinis said. "It can't be in development. It has to be in conclusion."
"As a representative of Souderton Borough, I am very much in favor of this project, but I am not in favor of this project moving forward," Souderton Borough Council President Brian Goshow testified.
That may sound surprising, but completing phase 2 will lead to more traffic being funneled into local communities, he said.
"The reason I'm not in favor of this project moving forward is because without the connection to 309, this is gonna have a very large negative effect on our communities," Goshow said. "Without phase 3 happening, I think it's a big mistake to even start phase 2."
He said he doesn't want to see the project not happen, but, "without the connection to 309, it is not the 309 connector."
Malagari said Goshow raised a good point.
"We all want this project to happen. We're gonna do everything we possibly can to make it happen," Malagari said.
The hearing is one of a series being held across the state on the House Democrats' Plan4PA, a release about the hearing said.
"Transportation's really important. We all know the reasons why. We have to get to work. We have to have commerce. We need to make sure that our roads and our bridges and everything that we use to move around, including public transportation and mass transit, is up to the best potential conditions that we can have," Malagari said at the beginning of the hearing.
Jeffrey Knueppel, general manager of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), testified public transportation is an important part of economic growth.
Public transportation is also safer than driving a car, he said.
SEPTA is building a solar farm in Franklin County and plans to have 20 percent of its electricity come from solar power by 2021, he said.
"We are really working to reduce emissions and we're also saving money," Knueppel said. "Every one of our sustainability initiatives also saves us money, which is really great."
The rail lines run through towns such as Souderton and Perkasie, but there is no longer passenger service to those towns, Maligari noted.
"Where there are rail networks that are active, you see the development happening around them," he said.
There's a backlog of vehicles to be replaced and station work that has to be done in the present system before the current service areas could be extended, Knueppel said.
"We have to make the system that we have strong," he said.
"The problem of extending," he said, "is we're still dealing with the existing network that we have."
There have been studies of extending passenger rail service to Quakertown, he said. Although ridership projections are increasing, that's still not financially feasible, he said.
Instead of extending the train lines, a combination of bus and trains can be used to have the buses bring riders to the train, he said.
"It's kind of what we have now in Lansdale," Knueppel said.
Both Knueppel and McClain noted that southeastern Pennsylvania takes up only a small part of the state's land area, but has a large share of the state's population.
PennDOT's District 6 includes Bucks, Montgomery, Chester, Delaware and Philadelphia counties, where 33 percent of the state's population lives, McClain said.
"We are responsible for over 3,500 miles of state highway, or roughly 9,700 lane miles of highway, 2,769 bridges, 90 miles of interstate highway," he said.
About half of the state's traffic signals are in District 6, he said.
In 2018, PennDOT spent a record-breaking more than $125 million on flood-related repairs statewide, which diverted funding from other road work, he said.
Electric and hybrid cars, along with mandated increased fuel-efficiency for gas powered vehicles, are decreasing the amount of gas taxes received, he said.
"It's actually working to hurt transportation funding as it exists today," McClain said.
Along with DeFinis and Goshow, other local officials testifying at the hearing were Lansdale Building Code Official Jason Van Dame, Telford Borough Manager Mark Fournier and Souderton Borough Manager Mike Coll.
Concerns included what the local officials said were unfunded mandates, such as required stormwater management systems designed to keep pollutants from being carried into waterways. Other issues included regulations and record keeping making it difficult or impractical to use state funding for local work.
The state has also shifted road funding to interstates.
"They're taking it from the local roads, so what that does is that just pushes all of us back further," Fournier said.
Goshow said Pennsylvania is the only state in which local police are not allowed to use radar to enforce speed limits.
"Everybody else has it except for us," he said. "Why we don't have it, I don't know, but it would be great for our local cops to have that."
Robert Drygras, general manager of PV Transport, the transportation arm of Clemens Food Group, said the company has 120 tractor trailers and travels about eight million miles a year, about half of which is on Pennsylvania roads.
"Our issues are infrastructure, roads, congestion," he said.
Clemens, which is the sixth largest pork producer in the country, has more than 3,500 employees, including more than 2,500 at its Hatfield location, he said.
Public transportation from either Norristown or Philadelphia to Hatfield takes about one-and-three-quarter hours one way during the day and longer during other times, he said, noting that the company operates 24 hours a day.
Peggy Schmidt, executive director of Partnership TMA (Transportation Management Association), described what the non-profit does.
"The partnership in the Partnership TMA is not just our name. It's what we do," she said. "We partner with SEPTA, PennDOT and the local municipalities on getting out important transportation information to the general public."
Bill Brown, president and CEO of Advanced Living Communities, said there's a need for senior citizen transportation.
"Today was a great experience listening to viewpoints from experts with varied backgrounds on what we can do to improve our aging infrastructure," Malagari said in a statement following the hearing.
In his district, there are stormwater issues causing flooding roads and roads and bridges that need to be updated, he said.
"In Montgomery County, and across the state, it's crucial that our communities are interconnected. People need access to good jobs and health services, and this begins with investment in transportation infrastructure," he said.
Policy Committee Chairman Mike Sturla, D-96, of Lancaster, chaired the hearing. Other state representatives in attendance for part or all of the hearing were Joe Hohenstein, D-177; Thomas Caltagirone, D-127; Mary Jo Daley, D-148; Margo Davidson, D-164; Steve McCarter, D-154; Mark Longietti, D-7; Matt Bradford, D-70; and Joe Ciresi, D-146.
Note: Correction on the interstate highway milage made to this article.