The current section of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Northeastern Extension widening project is running on schedule and planning is proceeding for the next section, turnpike representatives said at a Nov. 12 update meeting hosted by state Sen. Bob Mensch, R-24, at Indian Valley Middle School in Harleysville.

The project replaces 1950s paving and widens the road from the current two lanes in each direction to three lanes in each direction, turnpike information says.  

Work is currently being done on a seven mile stretch in Lower Salford, Franconia and Salford townships. The work also includes reconstructing turnpike bridges over Schoolhouse Road, Creamery Road, Dietz Mill Road and the Perkiomen Creek. 

"The goal is to get all six lanes open for traffic by November 6, 2020," Joe Serbu, senior engineer project manager, said. 

That won't be the end of the project, though, with roadside work, including for stormwater control basins, continuing into 2021, he said.

Once that section is done, work on the next section will begin, he said.

The next section, which will extend the road widening to near the turnpike's Quakertown interchange, will be in Salford and Marlborough townships in Montgomery County and West Rockhill and Milford townships in Bucks County, Kevin Scheurich, project manager, said.

Materials hauling for the work takes place over local roads and access roads within the turnpike right-of-way, he said. 

Even with weight restrictions on the trucks doing the hauling, there will be damage to the roads during the project because of the number of truckloads, he said. 

"We do a lot of patching and road repairs as needed during construction," he said. 

Although there is no system assuring local municipalities of the road work to be done, negotiations between the turnpike, contractor and municipality are held at the end of the project to determine what road work should be done, he said. 

"We usually patch during construction," Scheurich said, "and then post-construction, that's when we do repairs." 

Questions from residents included about the mounds of dirt in the area of Fretz, Cassell and Yoder roads in Lower Salford. One of the residents referred to it as a "monstrous mound of dirt."

Serbu said the mound contains a mixture of soil and rock excavated at the site. The final height won't be determined until next year when work on the project is done and the amount of leftover soil is known, he said. 

There will be planting on the mound to control erosion and for aesthetics, Scheurich said.  

Questions about the mound, which was referred to as "Mount Yoder," and the turnpike project were also raised at the Nov. 6 Lower Salford Township Board of Supervisors meeting.

Board member Chris Canavan said the township, through meetings set up by Mensch, has been meeting with turnpike representatives to relay the residents' concerns. 

"We are currently waiting for a new plan that is supposed to maybe adjust the height of Mount Yoder," he said. 

Other issues include maintenance of the area around sound barriers, he said.

"As the turnpike [project] expands further north, they're sort of taking the lessons that weren't maybe implemented and trying to help some of the municipalities further north to get ahead of the curve on some of these issues because we were blindsided by it," Canavan said. 

"Mount Yoder was erected without any advance notice to us whatsoever, so that was quite disturbing," board Chairman Doug Gifford said. "It's been a mess, quite frankly, and I wouldn't call it anything other than that."

As far as the township knows, this is the first time in this region that the turnpike bought additional land for a mound, Canavan said. In other instances, land that was already owned by the turnpike was used, he said.

If the soil was trucked off-site, it would have to be tested, Gifford said.

"Testing alone is quite expensive, regardless of what the tests show, but if they keep it on site, they do not have to test it," Gifford said. 

The turnpike initially projected that the mound would be more than 90 feet high, but it now appears it will be less, but still over 70 feet tall, he said. 

Although the final height isn't yet known, "We're working with the permitting to try to reshape the piles to try to lower them as much as we can," Serbu said following the Nov. 12 meeting. 

During the meeting, Scheurich said the mounds in the next section are expected to be 21 feet tall or less. In answer to a question from Lower Salford resident Jean Campbell about why the Lower Salford mound is so much bigger than those in the next section, Scheurich said there is a lot more material from the current section than there will be in the next section.

Following the meeting, Serbu said the projections for the next section mounds are still conceptual and could change. 

Campbell also asked about the environmental impact of the mounds.

While no testing is done for the materials that remain on site, Scheurich said, environmental site assessments are done beforehand for the area to be worked on and from which the materials come. 

If something is uncovered during construction that indicates the possibility of contamination, more testing is done, Serbu and Scheurich said.

Other questions raised at the turnpike meeting included about whether harmful materials, such as asbestos, could be trucked to the site and used in the roadway or harm people exposed to the materials during the hauling.  

Richard E. Pierson Construction Company has the $224 million contract for the current portion of the turnpike project. Richard E. Pierson Materials Corp. is leasing the Rockhill Quarry in East Rockhill and planned to use stone from the quarry, which had been dormant since the 1980s, for the project. The attempts to reactivate the quarry have led to objections from residents and a legal battle with East Rockhill Township and the residents. In addition, naturally occurring asbestos was detected at the quarry in December of last year, after which the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental ordered that quarry-related activity be stopped. That order currently remains in effect and the quarry is not in operation. 

Serbu and Scheurich said the materials being used do not come from the Rockhill Quarry and that all the materials must come from vendors who have been certified by the state. 

"I can tell you that we're not trying to bring asbestos into the site and if we find out that there's asbestos coming into the site, we're gonna stop it," Scheurich said.

Mensch said the residents have done a good job of raising the issues associated with the quarry's efforts to reopen and that the big issue is whether the quarry has the proper permits to do so. The quarry says it has maintained active mining permits and that there has been a quarry on the site since the 1800s.

Towamencin Volunteer Fire Co. Chief George Seifert also spoke at the meeting, asking that more standpipes for firefighters to connect to a water supply be added to the turnpike work and for emergency access ways through sound barriers.

Information about the turnpike projects is available by going to www.paturnpike.com and clicking on the "Design & Construction" section. 

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