Lehigh Valley

Lower Macungie still waiting for East Penn's traffic plan for Willow Lane Elementary

LOWER MACUNGIE TWP., Pa. - At least one Lower Macungie Township commissioner has reservations about whether East Penn School District's planned traffic changes at Willow Lane Elementary School will work "due to the traffic that's anticipated."

Township officials still are waiting for East Penn to submit its plan for traffic flow improvements at the school.

The district's plan was shown to two township commissioners during their March 14 planning committee meeting, but still has not been given to the township so a formal review can begin.

On Thursday night, Commissioner Douglas Brown, who chairs that committee, said he hopes he and Commissioner James Lancsek will be in a position to make a recommendation on East Penn's plan at their next committee meeting on April 11.

That plan has to be given to the township by March 27, so Lower Macungie's staff has sufficient time to review it by that April 11 committee meeting, said township engineer William Erdman. If it isn't submitted by March 27, Erdman said, "I don't think we'll have time to review it." He said two or three other "sizeable" plans will be coming up for review at the same time.

The district's traffic plan for Willow Lane Elementary was approved in a 4-3 vote by the East Penn School Board on March 11. But Brown reported that, at the March 14 meeting, Paul Szewczak, the school district's engineer, indicated he still was waiting for authorization from the school board to move forward with the plan.

"I don't want to speak for Commissioner Brown, but there still are quite a bit of reservations on the committee level as to whether this is going to work or not, due to the traffic that's anticipated," Lancsek told his fellow commissioners.

To save money on transportation costs, the school district plans to reduce busing for Willow Lane Elementary students in the 2013-14 school year.

One big unknown is whether that change will result in more children walking to school or more children being driven to school. Another is whether the property's rear access road and parking areas can accommodate a large increase in car traffic.

The district's plan proposes all cars picking up and dropping off students will use the Mill Creek Road entrance to the school and only school buses will use the front entrance off Sauerkraut Lane.

At the March 14 commissioners committee meeting, school district officials said about 140 cars now drop off and pick up students every day at the school. They said they did not know how much that number will increase if busing is reduced. Parents of Willow Lane children predicted at least twice as many cars will be dropping off and picking up children.

Resident Susan Coenen, a parent of Willow Lane children who opposes the district's busing plan, is doing a survey of all Willow Lane parents to determine how their children will get to school. On Thursday night, she told the commissioners she hopes parents will respond to her survey by Sunday, so she can present results to the school board Monday night.

The township is doing its own plan for safety improvements in the neighborhood around the school, in anticipation of East Penn requiring more children to walk.

At the April 4 township meeting, commissioners will look at Lower Macungie's tentative plan for those off-site improvements. Commissioners may make suggestions, but will not vote on the plan at that meeting, explained Ron Eichenberg, president of the five commissioners. "It will be an informational session for the public."

Erdman said formal action will be taken by commissioners when the township is ready for construction bids. He indicated they will have to approve advertising for bids and then approve awarding contracts.

The township anticipates spending about $100,000 on those improvements, which include flashing school zone signals, crosswalks, handicapped ramps and other signs.

On March 14, Erdman said the township will advertise for bids on April 29, commissioners can award bids on June 6 and all improvements should be completed by Aug. 9, a couple of weeks before school starts.

Noting the East Penn School Board still has not made a decision about requiring more children to walk to Willow Lane Elementary, Lancsek said: "Before the township spends a lot of money, we want to make sure the school board is committed to walking. That's kind of a condition of the off-site improvements."

The school board will be presented with two options by its administration: require children to walk if they live within .75 of a mile from Willow Lane Elementary or require those who live within 1.5 miles of the school to walk. Lancsek indicated the option chosen will impact the amount of off-site improvements Lower Macungie will have to make. But Erdman said that will be "a fairly minimal change."

Commissioner Ryan Conrad said the township should make the planned off-site improvements no matter what decision the school district makes about requiring more children to walk to school, because those improvements will help children who walk to the school now.

But Lancsek said if the township feels the school district's plan is not going to work, "by not doing off-site improvements, the township would force East Penn to continue busing as many Willow Lane students as it does now."

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