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Pennsburg Officials Make Pitch to Prevent Trail
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer
2021-07-28

            After months of requests from Pennsburg officials, representatives of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the Montgomery County Planning Commission toured the site of a proposed trail that is opposed by the borough.

Local, county, and state officials visited the Main St. bridge over the abaondoned

Reading Railroad on Monday. 

 

            Council President Diane Stevens described their presence in the municipality as a positive development, but said municipal officials received no indication that they have succeeded in preventing the conversion of a portion of the old Reading Railroad line to a multi-purpose trail.

            "Whether or not we did enough to make them envision what we would like to see happen remains to be seen," Stevens said.

            Stevens, along with several members of Pennsburg council and staff, led a group of visitors – including Nathan Parish, a consultant with the state agency, and Bill  Hartman, a trails and open space planning manager with the Montgomery County Planning Commission – on a walking tour. According to the council president, the goal was to illustrate the impracticality of incorporating a trail into a proposal to reconstruct a bridge on Main Street.

            Stevens claims implementation of the trail, which would follow the path of the former rail line, would adversely impact numerous private citizens and even more business owners between 11th Street and Pottstown Avenue. She said the project would create numerous issues related to land usage and rights of way.

            Municipal officials proposed rerouting the trail along the Macoby Creek. Stevens said they would like county officials to explore the possibility of connecting it to the Pennsburg Nature Preserve, located off East 5th Street, by running it along Otts Road from 11th Street in Red Hill.

            The council president came away feeling hopeful that Parish and Hartman understood the municipality's issues.

            Hartman said the experience allowed him to develop a better understanding of the borough's concerns. However, he declined to offer an opinion on the proposal.

            "I'm not going to make a decision until I have all necessary information," Hartman said.

            The tour – which included representatives from three business owners who will be impacted by the bridge renovation project, Red Hill Council member Liz DeJesus and state Rep. Milou Mackenzie, R-131st Dist. – made four stops following the path of the former line, beginning with the bridge near the intersection of 11th Street.

            Municipal officials then moved to a private driveway off Eighth Street at the former location of Ritchey's Paving Company and an apartment. From there, it shifted to the lot in the 200 block of Pottstown Avenue – near an active rail line – where the proposed trail would end. It concluded with a stop at the borough's nature preserve, several blocks from the old railway, which where borough officials would prefer the trail to connect.

            The current plan to rebuild the bridge incorporates a tunnel under the structure in order to accommodate pedestrian and bike access along the former path of the tracks.

            On July 21, during a virtual meeting with PennDOT and county officials, Stevens repeated the borough's opposition to the implementation of a trail. She argued that it would disrupt an active railroad that serves multiple local businesses seven blocks away.

            The county's reluctance to relinquish a portion of the track bed near the bridge – abandoned nearly 50 years ago – has prevented the Reed Sign Company, located at 1050 Main St., from adding 10 additional parking spots. Business owner Ed Reed also expressed concern how the county would manage potential issues of loitering on the trail.

            Five days before the visit, Hartman explained that even though the Pennsburg walking path is drawn on the planning commission's master plan – as part of the county's Rails to Trails Program – officials have no immediate plan to build out this portion of the path. He said during the video meeting that it may never get constructed.

            Hartman said that implementation of the tunnel under the bridge was intended to retain the option for future county and local officials to implement a trail under a busy road to avoid dangerous interactions between pedestrians and vehicles. He said during the meeting that leaving it out would close the door to that possibility.


 

 

 

 

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