When you say the word “roundabout” then you are sure to get a reaction.
PennDOT is planning two roundabouts when they reconfigure the Bayfront Parkway between Holland and Sassafras Streets.
However, a much more vocal fight has developed over public access, or depending on who you talk to, the lack of it.
It has been the main route to and through Erie’s Bayfront for 30 years, with no major updates. That’s going to change, however, but PennDOT’s plan for that change has its critics.
“The problem is they are choking off how the city connects to the Bayfront if you don’t have a vehicle.” said Adam Trott, Architect.
Trott is no stranger to the fight over access. He was among those trying to save the McBride Viaduct. Trott sees many of the same issues on the Bayfront, where he says PennDOT’s primary concern is how fast you can move cars in and out.
“They’re using this as a speedway and that increases the traffic even beyond what they calculated. That’s why the plan is doomed to fail.” Trott said.
“It’s a really nice project, not just for the efficiency of the vehicles, but also looking at pedestrian enhancements.” said Tom McClelland, Assistant District Executive for Design at PennDOT.
In PennDOT’s newest animation, you can see the project narrows the parkway at State Street for safer crossing. It also includes bike paths and pedestrian bridges for increased access. So, what’s the problem?
“The record tell us that when those kinds of proposals are being made, time and time again, the proposal far exceeds the actual revenue. So, the first things that get cut are those kinds of connections.” Trott said.
“That pedestrian improvement I talked about at State Street and also the pedestrian bridge at Holland to connect the east side neighborhoods, those have to be part of the final project.” McClelland said.
It’s public access to the planning process that’s now the subject of a lawsuit. It was filed by the organization “Earthjustice” on behalf of several different groups. They claim PennDOT got the federal okay to skip an environmental assessment, which they say is illegal.
“They did a 180 and said Instead of doing an environmental assessment and a public hearing, we’re just going to go forward with a fast track process that basically cuts the public outright at the end right when it’s time to consider alternatives and really hear from the public.” said Jill Witkowski Heaps, staff attorney at Earthjustice.
PennDOT expects to start construction in 2022 and is planning to hear more public comment. Adam Trott is among those they can expect to hear from.
“What we have seen in the past is when you resign yourself to saying ‘Let’s just get what we can get, regardless of how appropriate it is, then we end up having to live with it for 30, 40 years.” Trott said.
Regarding the lawsuit filed on behalf of the Erie Chapter of the NAACP and Citizen’s for Pennsylvania’s Future, Earthjustice is now waiting for PennDOT and the Federal Highway Administration to respond.