Residents worry Route 309 upgrades could demolish homes, harm businesses
SOUTH WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. — Residents told state Transportation Department officials Tuesday they're worried planned two-year major upgrades of Route 309 will impact local businesses, take their property and demolish homes.
PennDOT held a public plans display for the State Route 309 Roadway Betterment Project at the South Whitehall Township Municipal Building.
- Residents gave feedback for the State Route 309 Roadway Betterment Project at a plans display Tuesday
- The project will upgrade the roadway and renovate six intersections from Walbert Avenue to Shankweiler Road
- Two houses would need to be demolished according to current plans
The project will renovate six intersections along the road from Walbert Avenue to Shankweiler Road.
About 20,000 vehicles a day use the corridor.
“You'll be able to get through the corridor just as you are today. Just maybe with a little bit more patience.”Project Manager Megan Fallon
Construction likely will begin in fall 2024, with three planned detours during the work time of at least two years.
About 50 residents attended the plans display. Some said they worried about the impact of the construction to local businesses, while others said the project would take some of their property and demolish homes.
Project Manager Megan Fallon confirmed that two houses would need to be demolished and some property would need to be taken according to current plans.
Fallon said any resident whose property is taken for the project will be compensated.
Route 309 will be open throughout the construction process. Fallon said the traffic delays should not be too significant, but it may take a few more minutes to get through the area during construction.
“You'll be able to get through the corridor just as you are today,” Fallon said. “Just maybe with a little bit more patience.”
Residents who were not able to attend the event can submit a comment form about the project.
Fallon said the section of the road in the Route 309 Roadway Betterment Project is deteriorating and needs to be upgraded.
“It's about bettering what is already out there,” Fallon said, “and trying to improve safety and the flow of traffic, while also recognizing that this is a highly residential area and minimizing the impacts to the residents when possible.”
The project will renovate six intersections along Route 309: Walbert Avenue, Chapman’s/Pope Road, Huckleberry Road, Lime Kiln Road, Orefield/Kernsville Road and Shankweiler Road.
The roadways will be widened to create 12-foot travel lanes, eight-foot shoulders and new turning lanes at the intersections.
Other work will include sidewalks, ADA ramps, bus loading pads, drainage improvements and signing upgrades.
The project will require three detours — at Church Road, Orefield Road and Jordan Creek. It will be 6.4 miles long using Walbert Avenue, Cedar Crest Boulevard and Orefield Road. It will last one weekend.
According to the township website, people still will be able to access driveways and businesses within the project limits throughout construction.
North Whitehall resident James Stettler said the current project plans would require his home to be demolished.
His property is at Route 309 and Kernsville Road. The current plan map shows part of the construction going right over his house.
"That's a little hard to uproot after this long. I'm not very happy about that. But what am I going to do?”North Whitehall resident James Stettler
Stettler said he has lived in the house for 51 years. He said his parents bought the place when he was 11 years old, and he inherited it from them.
“Now I'm getting kicked out,” Stettler said. “And that's a little hard to uproot after this long. I'm not very happy about that. But what am I going to do?
“All I can do is do the best I can to fight PennDOT and say, 'What can I do to stay on my property?'”
Stettler said he could live in a building further back on his property if it had water and sewer, but the township previously told him he would have to fund it, which would cost tens of thousands of dollars.
A representative from PennDOT told Stettler the department would try to work out a deal so he could stay on his property, but it was not a guarantee.
'They'll be right up against my porch'
Orefield resident Harry Miller said he was “impressed” with the meeting because of how knowledgeable the staff was. He also said he appreciated the department’s plan to talk with each affected resident individually.
But Miller said he may have to move when the project is done because the current plans will extend the road about 20 feet into his property. He is concerned tractor-trailers, in particular, will make too much noise.
“They'll be right up against my porch,” Miller said.
Shankweiler's Drive-In Theatre co-owner Matthew McClanahan said he is worried the construction will negatively affect his business.
“These are improvements that I think are important, but maybe can be done a different way."Co-owner of Shankweiler's Drive-In Theatre Matthew McClanaha
He said one of the drive-in's main selling points is its convenient location for residents of Allentown and the rest of the Lehigh Valley, and the construction might discourage people from coming.
“It kind of creates a little bit of an existential threat for us, especially because we rely on traffic off the highway,” McClanahan said.
McClanahan said his business likely will be less impacted than businesses near the detours, which he said he thinks may suffer from the project.
“These are improvements that I think are important, but maybe can be done a different way,” McClanahan said.
People still will be able to access driveways and businesses within the project limits throughout construction, according to the South Whitehall Township website.