The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission broke ground Thursday morning on a new four-way interchange, Exit 320 at Route 29, that is expected to remove 10,000 cars daily from local roadways.
A thin layer of snow covered the ground in East Whiteland as politicians and other dignitaries dug their shovels into the earth to mark the start of construction. The $48 million project has been in the works for nearly 20 years and is slated to be open to traffic by the fall of 2012.
The new exit is between the Valley Forge and Downingtown interchanges, and should relieve congestion on the Schuylkill Expressway, Route 202 and local roadways including Route 401 and other parts of Route 29.
"It’s a great moment for all of us to see our quarters go to work," Rep. Pat Meehan said. "Because the bottom line is this is a project that was paid for with our tolls."
The interchange will be all-electronic, meaning tolls will be collected exclusively via E-ZPass. Unlike other recently added turnpike slip ramp exits near Bensalem and Fort Washington, traffic at Exit 320 will be four-way, allowing drivers to exit from both directions to head north and south on Route 29.
Craig Shuey, chief operating officer of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, said planners had to make sure it was necessary to have both exits, as the cost difference is substantial.
"You don’t have bridges crossing over or underneath the highway," on the slip-ramp only exits, Shuey said. "Street Road, for example, was I think a $7 million project. This one’s a $50 million project."
State Sen. Andrew Dinniman praised the project as the result of bipartisanship, citing the efforts of fellow state Sens. Dominic Pileggi and John Rafferty.
"There are states as far away as Georgia that come and try to take our companies away. … These companies have told us again and again, 'Build the ramp, we stay,' " Sen. Dinniman said.
East Whiteland Township supervisor Virginia McMichael said after the ceremony that studies have shown that many of the people who work in the Great Valley Corporate Center live in the Lehigh Valley.
"As a result, they [are] driving and getting off at Route 100 in Exton and then taking Route 401 and Swedesford Road to get to the corporate center. Well, those secondary roads aren’t made for that kind of traffic," McMichael said.
"By keeping this an area where we have the knowledge workers that get good salaries, that’s more revenue for our township. And it enables us to have parks and trails, and keep the property taxes modest," she said.
McMichael noted that East Whiteland Township officials had considered the possible downsides, including the prospect of overdevelopment.
"We didn't want a junky turnpike exchange ... big lit-up signs 200 feet in the air, or a lot of flashy neon and fast food," McMichael said. "Because we've had time, we been able to ensure the right zoning for this area, so that we allow billboards, but they won't be right here on this stretch. We're not going to have really high signs. There are a lot of things you can do to have local planning and local ordinances, so that it will really look nice."