Sunday, September 25, 2011

Dog Days

As I mentioned back in the Spring, I promised my kids that if I won the primary election, we could get a dog. And, true to my word, I did let them get one (we already have a couple of cats and a chinchilla). Perhaps I should have put some restrictions around the kind of dog they could get, but it didn't cross my mind. I reasoned that with approximately 150 breeds out there, surely the odds were good that they'd pick something I could live with, and we'd discussed breeds often enough over the years that I thought I had a good idea what types of dogs appealed to them. There were really only two breeds I wasn't interested in...Rottweilers and Pit Bulls.

Well, sure enough, one day they came home with a purebred Rottweiler puppy. And, I have to say, even though there have been some bumps in the road (she has a tendency to chew on things, for example), she's really growing on me.

In fact, I credit Keira (Gaelic for 'little dark one') with making me stop and smell the roses a little bit. I've been more diligent about making time for walks or jogs in the park (at this point, with Keira at about 50 lbs and growing rapidly, I'm not sure who's walking who, but I digress). She loves to run, and can keep up with me when I jog.  

One thing owners of dogs such as Rottweilers are told is to socialize them often and early with other dogs. I recalled hearing that neighboring Upper Providence Township had recently opened a 4-acre dog park off of Longford Road (a left turn off Egypt Road), something a few other surrounding townships have and which are growing in popularity. I'd driven by it a couple of times, so, one day that Keira was bouncing off the walls with energy to burn, I decided to take her there and check it out.

We've been there a few times since then, and I have to say I'm really impressed with Upper Providence's execution of the idea. While they had a few hiccups early on ---some residents weren't diligent about picking up after their pets; the park was closed temporarily for sanitary reasons, but residents now understand they will lose this park if they don't comply -- it's been clear sailing ever since. And, the park connects directly to the county trail system, so you can walk your dog on the trail if you want.

If you haven't been, it's immensely popular. There are two large fenced-in areas for larger dogs, and two smaller fenced-in areas for smaller dogs. There are plenty of stations and supplies for disposing of dog waste. At any given time dogs are coming and going with their owners. The last time I was there, there were 13 dogs in the large dog pen. Owners obviously must remain with their pets.

I love going there. It's like the new water cooler. How often do we go about our business without seeing or having time to chat with our neighbors? In this environment, everybody's happy and anxious to talk about anything, especially their dogs, but politics and current events has come up too. I've even run into folks from Lower Providence there. The dogs are so happy to hang out with their furry friends and are well behaved. It's so neat to see them run together and play and chase balls and frisbees. And, the best thing is, when Keira comes home, she's exhausted and sleeps for a good while.

The Upper Providence park was able to come into being because a former Montgomery County attorney had a provision in his will leaving $100,000 to Upper Providence Township for creation of the park...and the park had to be created within six months or they'd lose the money.

From the first township budget meeting I attended last week, I realize that 2012 is going to be extremely challenged financially, and there simply is no money for open space anytime in the near future (and we have no similar benefactors to provide funding). Perhaps we can do what Conshohocken is in the process of doing, funding theirs with entirely private, non-taxpayer funds.  However, whenever we possibly can, one thing I think our community in Lower Providence could really benefit from - and that we don't currently have - is a similar spot for our residents with dogs to visit.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

422 tolling/rail plan gets a failing grade

I spent last evening with residents from all along the 422 corridor who came out en masse to the tune of several hundred attendees to participate in a panel discussion at Pope John Paul II High School,  hosted by Rep. Mike Vereb (150th), on the subject of "fixing 422", how to pay for it, and whether a rail option should be part of the plan.  Our township manager, Joe Dunbar, and supervisor Colleen Eckman attended from Lower Providence.
Barry Seymour (DRVRPC), Commissioner Joe Hoeffel, Times Herald editor Stan Huskey, and Rep. Warren Kamp (R-157) (photo courtesy Pottstown Patch)
Panelists included Rep. Marcy Toepel (147th), Rep. Warren Kampf (157th), Rep. Tom Quigley (146th), Stan Huskey, editor of the Times Herald, Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel, and Barry Seymour, executive director of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.

The forum allowed for residents to have an interactive voice, posing questions to the panel via card, and permitting panelists to elaborate on key provisions of the proposed plan. As several attendees told me afterward, they didn't like the plan as presented - which includes the possibility of tolling and takes into account a new regional rail line - and wondered aloud 'If this is Plan A, what's Plan B?"

Attendees first reviewed a Powerpoint summary of the current scenario.  The document indicated projected population is anticipated to increase 50 percent in the corridor region over the next ten years, bringing with it increased gridlock and delays. Financial data included the revelation that funds generated by tolls - about $60 million a year, increasing over time, of course,  would only cover about 25% of the money needed to operate and maintain 422 and the proposed rail line. Rep. Toepel later stated that 'the numbers don't make sense'. 

Pointing out that federal transportation funding will decrease 35% over the next six years and that PennDOT has $1 billion less to spend than it did four years ago, Seymour hoped that Gov. Corbett would seriously consider implementing the Governor’s Transportation Commission’s suggestions to increase transportation funding by $3.5 billion. If that happens, tolling may not be needed on 422 at all.

Residents questioned every aspect of the proposal, including, but not limited to, why 422 was singled out for tolling when improvements to 309 and 202 were not; what's happened to money already allocated for road improvements; how to keep the toll from being a permanent solution; what the potential costs of implementing tolling would be and what would the impact be on local jobs and roads; exploring other, more fair, avenues of revenue generation such as increased licensing and registration fees and increasing the gas tax - options which spread the cost to all state residents; and of course the train/rail line aspect. The sentiment of the vast majority in attendance was that legislators needed to find ways to do more with less and perhaps find ways to cut spending in other areas to pay for needed transportation improvements - and remove the rail aspect from the plan entirely.

The cost of the proposed rail plan is estimated at $370 million. Hoeffel said that figure could be eliminated from total cost of the project. Estimates indicated that it would cost about $750 million to improve Route 422 and replace the Betzwood Bridge, and pulling the $370 million rail line cost out still leaves the  project short by about $500 million. 

Many fear the creation of yet another 'authority' to supervise and (mis?)manage funds generated by tolling and view tolling as yet another way to divert transportation funds to chronically nonself-sustainable SEPTA.  As Joe Hoeffel observed, however, all forms of transportation are subsidized in some fashion by taxpayers - airlines, buses, and highways, so why not rail? (Hoeffel's repeated use of the word 'investment' in terms of this project did not endear him to any of the folks I talked to).  One resident cautioned planners "not to assume the revenue will be there", as  many commuters would likely choose to avoid 422 in favor of using free local roads even if they have to sit in traffic to do so.

The toll would be collected not via traditional toll booths, but with E-Z pass technology. Seymour said that those without E-Z Pass would be billed through the mail based on photos of their license plates. Some attendees questioned the costs of doing that.

One question submitted asked why this issue could not be put out for vote by referendum. Rep. Vereb observed that this had not been done since the open space referendum a few years ago and that there are considerable costs to put out a referendum; it was felt that a meeting such as this forum would elicit stakeholder feedback more quickly without incurring the costs.

While the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce has endorsed the plan (surprised? I'm not) the question was put out as to whether the local Montgomery county Chamber of Commerce had taken a position on the plan. New Chamber president Kathy Brandon was in the audience and contributed that while the Chamber had not taken a position, they had polled their  members and found no support for it, adding that there 'are too many unanswered questions' at this point.

Privatization was also raised as possibility and the panel indicated that this option may be a part of the ongoing discussion.

The panelists reiterated that "only the State can create a local tolling option", that nothing will happen without legislation being introduced, passed, and signed by the governor; currently there is no legislation proposed. 

Frequent applause and cheering at key points, along with a few loud audience members who shouted out comments, made it clear that the vast majority of the attendees were not in support of either a tolling option or a rail line.

You can see other articles from Reading, Pottstown, and Norristown publications containing more details and photos here,  herehere and here.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Reflection, Remembrance and Renewal: Lower Providence Observes 9-11

Like many other communities around the country this weekend, Lower Providence will mark the ten-year anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001 by dedicating a new memorial in a ceremony this coming Sunday morning. Constructed entirely with donated materials and labor, the memorial (pictured) is an elegant yet solemn, peaceful tribute to those who lost their lives that day.

According to the township's website, the memorial "will include a five-sided reflection pool in honor and remembrance of those who died in the terrorist attack at the Pentagon and twin towers of the World Trade Center and a 40-step water feature in memory of the 40 lives lost in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The Township also will be receiving artifacts from all three sites."

I visit the township building often and have seen this project in all stages of development. Now that it's finished, I can tell you it's absolutely stunning in design. It's simple, yet makes a powerful statement. Kudos to the designers at Architectural Concepts of West Chester and Wade Associates of Harrisburg for the classic elegance it embodies and deep emotion it conveys.I know personally that every time I walk past it, I will recall the events of the day that substantially changed life in America as we know it.

Stopping by the township building yesterday to pick up some forms and address a couple of constituent concerns, by coincidence I happened to arrive at exactly the same time as an artifact from the World Trade Center (which appeared to be a piece of steel from one of the twin tower buildings) was being offloaded. It was touching to see the reverence and respect paid to the artifact and what it symbolizes when everyone present silently lined up along the walkway, removed headwear and bowed our heads for the piece's journey inside the building.

I understand that we have also received a stone from the Shanksville, PA, site where United Flight 93 crashed. These will be placed on display (with photographs) in the township's meeting hall.

If you're around Sunday morning (it's supposed to be dry!), consider attending the dedication ceremony at the township building at 8:30 am (plan to arrive earlier to allow for parking and seating), and/or consider joining the growing list of sponsors contributing to the cost of the project.  All attendees are invited following the ceremony to join together for light refreshments, view a slide presentation, artifacts and sign a book of remembrance.

As for Methacton School District, an announcement released to school district families earlier this week indicated it plans to
mark the anniversary with events planned for this Friday and Saturday, September 9 and 10.

Per the announcement, on Friday, September 9, students, faculty and staff are invited to wear red, white and blue in honor of Patriot Day. On Saturday, September 9, all school district students and families are invited to join the Methacton High School Warriors at Saturday's 1 p.m. home game vs. Upper Merion [UPDATED INFO BELOW...GAME LOCATION HAS BEEN MOVED DUE TO WET FIELD] and help honor the men and women who keep our community and our nation safe. Kickoff is at 1 p.m., and service personnel and first responders are invited to attend at no charge. As I try to attend all Warrior home football games, I know I'll be there, and hope to see you too.

Follow this link to read more about how Methacton will mark the 10th Anniversary of 9.11.01. 

And, most of all, "Never forget"

As of 4 pm on Friday 9/9 Methacton sent out a notice that "The football game scheduled for Saturday, September 10 at 1 p.m. vs. Upper Merion has been moved to Phoenixville Area High School. The exorbitant amount of rain has caused the field to be unusually wet, which hindered any ability to cut and line the field. The game will now take place at 3 p.m. at Phoenixville Area High School, located at 1200 Gay Street in Phoenixville.

Special events planned for the game in recognition of the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 WILL GO ON AS PLANNED at Phoenixville, including the performance of patriotic music by the MHS Band.

Students and families are invited to join the MHS Warriors at Saturday's 3 p.m. game, and help us honor the men and women who keep our community and our nation safe!

We invite service personnel and first responders throughout our area to attend at NO CHARGE, and be honored at half time.

From Germantown Pike, travel over the Collegeville Bridge and make a left on Rt. 29/Second Ave. Turn left on Starr Street, followed by a right onto Manavon St., which later becomes South Main Street in Phoenixville. Make a right onto Purple Pride Parkway, followed by a slight left onto Gay Street.

Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience."