January 29, 2007

Of Roads and Bridges and Related Things

One of the things that bothers me at township meetings is when people go on and on about issues that really only affect themselves or a few others, when what they should do is pursue these issues outside a town meeting where lots of others have to sit and listen to something that doesn't really involve them. However, this month, I found myself turning into one of those folks.

See, I've been having an ongoing dialogue of sorts with Ron Martin at the Doylestown PennDOT office. I've been complaining about the massive amount of VERY heavy tractor-trailer truck traffic that's been coming down our hill onto Rt. 611 (we're located at the only traffic light in Ferndale) since Rt. 32 was closed back in September of 2004.

That happened when a flood on the river, caused by Hurricane Ivan, chewed away the better part of the northbound lane next to the canal in the northern reaches of Upper Black Eddy. The southbound lane was finally re-opened back in late 2005, if I remember correctly, but I know it was at least a year after that flood. Then, of course, it got hit again in April of 2005, and again last summer in June by those two floods.

But the northbound lane remains closed, and the result is that an unacceptably high volume of heavy truck traffic has been diverted down Center Hill Road. There, many lesser-skilled drivers try unsuccessfully to navigate the sharp, 90-degree turns at the stoplight, which just happens to border my yard on two sides. These unsuccessful attempts frequently rearrange our landscaping and force me to replace an average of $100 worth of decorative stone a month.

And so I took advantage of the opportunity to harangue poor old Mr. Martin while I had his attention. And the rest of the township's residents had to sit there while I did so. I apologize for having taken so much of their valuable time (and I sincerely mean that), but this issue is actually larger than just some nuisance traffic. Not even a week later, a huge truck took out the guardrail opposite our yard and created such a distracting mess that not one, but TWO traffic accidents took place the very next day because rubberneckers checking it out weren't paying attention to their driving. (No kidding -- I awoke to one at 9 am, and another happened around 4 pm -- both heavy traffic times at our intersection!)

I don't understand WHY it has taken so much time to get around to fixing that other lane. I know the flooding has kept PennDOT busy. I understand that, like every other area of the commonwealth, the Bucks County region is under-staffed and under-funded when it comes to keeping the roads in good repair (for the life of me, I don't get why Harrisburg doesn't make road infrastructure more of a priority, but that's for a different post). But what I DON'T understand is how it can continue to be such a low priority to re-open what is not just a main thoroughfare for tourists -- who are the lifeblood of this region's economy -- but also for local residents and businesses.

Bad enough that area drivers have had to re-learn how to get around without being able to drive north on Rt. 32 there. Even worse, tourists who don't know all the local roads available as detours simply turn around and take their much-needed dollars elsewhere, because they're afraid to get lost in the boonies. Worse still that several restaurants, including the Indian Rock Inn and the recently re-opened American Grill, have barely been able to stay in business because of all the traffic they've lost to this ongoing road closure.

But worst of all is the reality that, according to Upper Bucks EMS squads, the inability to use that stretch of River Road can add up to 17 minutes to an ambulance trip, depending on where the squad is when a call comes in, where they have to pick up their passenger, and which hospital they must travel to. 17 MINUTES! Anyone who's ever experienced the frightening moments between a heart attack or stroke and the arrival of the ambulance can tell you that this amount of time can mean the difference between full recovery and, frankly, death.

As a member of the Nockamixon Emergency Management Agency, I find it unconscionable that this situation is allowed to exist. I can't help but believe that if we all, collectively, made a big enough stink about it, priorities at PennDOT would be forced to be reconsidered. Don't think so?

Take this into account: At a recent EMA meeting, I sat and listened while a Bucks County EMA representative told us to our faces that the reason Yardley got all the attention during the last flood wasn't so much that they got hit harder than anyone else (in some areas, they did, but there were other, equally affected areas elsewhere, including Upper Black Eddy). No, the real reason was that their borough chief knows how to make a big noise about his city's hardship, and he did so. He went on loud and long, and into the right ears, and the result was that Yardley got what it needed, both during the flood and afterward (not to mention lots of media coverage because that loud noise also attracted many politicians hungry for a photo op).

Now, there are things that we discuss in EMA meetings that aren't meant for public discourse, for security and safety reasons. I don't believe this issue is one of them. In fact, I believe our residents and businesses have every right to know -- for their very real safety, both of their persons and of their livelihoods -- that Nockamixon isn't getting the positive attention it deserves at the county level because we aren't demanding that attention.

Now, I know for a fact that we are capable of behaving badly and noisily when we want to up here. Reference my previous post for one of too many examples. And yet, when it comes to standing up for what we should rightfully be able to expect, we are either too polite (somehow, I don't think that's it) or too uninformed to understand how things work in Doylestown. And how it works is that, as in most things political, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

So, I have a radical proposal for Nockamixon Township: How about we stop all the stupid and destructive political infighting we're unfortunately notorious for, and instead channel all that energy into fighting the inertia of our down-county representatives? What a concept: Working together for the good of everyone in our township! Sounds downright...democratic, don't you think? (though I'm sure it's a bit too socialistic for some people who shall remain unnamed)

Imagine: All our citizens petition the board of supervisors to demand that they help us stand up and be counted among the tax-paying citizens of Bucks County who deserve equal representation when it comes to services not just promised, but those actually rendered. And -- wait, there's more! -- in a timely, considered and reasonable fashion.

Whaddya think? Think maybe we could call a spade a spade, and get county government officials to 'fess up to the fact that what I've heard referred to as "that north of 412 crowd" has been given the s--t end of the stick long enough? That we deserve to have our roads taken care of just as well and just as soon as the ones in New Hope and Solebury and Yardley are? That just because we don't currently boast as many "gotta see" tourist destinations (please be patient, I'm working on that), we're considered second tier citizens who can wait until they get around to it?

I'm not blasting Doylestown. I think our representatives work hard, and I think they do the best they can, most times. But the reality is that we live in a marketing-driven world: the effort follows the attention. I'm a marketing professional, and I understand this all too well. I say, let's get together and promote the idea that Nockamixon deserves as much as any municipality to enjoy the benefits of first-class citizenship.

Anybody with me?