Group not backing off 81 exit fight

September 24, 2002|by STACEY DANZUSO

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Opponents of a proposed exit on Interstate 81 near Walker Road said they are hopeful that pending litigation will once and for all defeat the exit they have challenged for nearly 15 years.

"It's been a long battle, but I am more optimistic than ever," said Bert Vagnerini, who joined the fight as it began in 1987.

Vagnerini is one of 11 residents of Chambersburg and Greene Township who along with the Greene/Guilford Environmental Association and the Citizens for Planned Community Growth await a ruling from Federal District Court in Harrisburg, Pa., on their lawsuit. The suit contends the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration did not consider other sites for the proposed interchange.


"The fact is they gave almost no consideration to a Kriner Road alternative," attorney Tom Linzey said.

Linzey said officials violated national law by deciding the location of the exit before environmental and traffic studies were done.

"In the meantime all of the development has been south of the borough," said Paul Ambrose, a Greene Township supervisor and an opponent of the exit.

Linzey said the study area initially was from Marion to Scotland, but instead of looking at the entire area, contracts with consultants show they were directed to focus only on the area of U.S. 30. He said the agencies should have been forced to look at alternatives in Bedford, Blair, Centre and Huntingdon counties, which were also eligible to use the federal funding.

There are eight counts in the lawsuit, so depending which way the judge rules, it could effectively kill the project, Linzey said.

If the judge rules against the residents, they will appeal to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which could mean another two years of litigation, he said.

Proponents say a new interchange would alleviate the congestion on U.S. 30, but Vagnerini said it would funnel traffic to Franklin Farm Lane and Walker Road right back to U.S. 30.

"We are not opposed to progress, but Walker Road and Franklin Farm Lane will not support the magnitude of traffic that will come," he said.

He and others in the lawsuit, including Ambrose, Stephen Bucher and Tom Bundy, said a better location for a new interchange would be where the commercial growth in the county is, just south of Chambersburg.

They recently asked the Chambersburg Borough Council to support swapping the funds for the Walker Road exit to one south of town, but council members opted to send a letter to PennDOT requesting a study for an additional exit.

Vagnerini said the traffic counts on which the Borough Council members based their decision were from 1995, and "so far out of date they don't mean anything."

Development officials disagree.

"It's dangerous to start debating the issue of north and south. The answer is we need one north to help alleviate Route 30 traffic, and I believe the idea of an exit south has merit, but I don't think it has been studied enough," said David Sciamanna, director of the Chambersburg Area Development Corporation.

The debate over what was originally called Exit 7 began in 1987 when the federal government allocated $5 million for the interchange, Ambrose said.

The project stalled numerous times in the last dozen years. First, Greene Township successfully had land designated as a rural historic district, pushing the exit 1,400 feet south, he said.

Then, when PennDOT tried to take farmland without going through the proper agricultural condemnation procedures, the owners successfully sued, Linzey said.

PennDOT and the owners reached an agreement for the sale of the acreage in 2000, which ended the debate over land.

In May 2001, Linzey filed the current suit, which he doesn't expect a ruling on until the middle of 2003.

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