This story has nothing to do with politics, but I wanted to say something about it because it definitely hits close to home for yours truly (local PA stuff).
I’ll try to summarize briefly in case you aren’t registered with the Inquirer (and speaking of which, it sounds like final bids for Knight Ridder were approved yesterday, and with Media News and Gannett as the apparent front runners and McClatchy lurking somewhere in the background, I’m sorry, but I just continue to get this sinking feeling that the Inquirer will turn into “News McNuggets” and the Daily News may go under altogether, God help us).
Getting back to the story…it has to do with a lady in Chester County, Pa. named Dolores Solitario, 73, who has lived in a farmhouse in that area for 50 years (and in case you’ve never seen one, Chester County farmhouses are, to me, works of art in their pastoral setting). She also has a kennel in her barn that houses 90 dogs and cats, some of which were rescued in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Well, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has begun the eviction process so construction can begin on her property of an E-Z Pass “slip ramp” between the Valley Forge and Downingtown exits of the PA Turnpike. As the story states, the entire matter is in court at this time; the commission gave her what she considered to be a low-ball estimate on her property last September, and when she chose not to accept it, they almost immediately began the process to condemn her land (as commission spokesman Carl DeFebo said, 11 properties are affected by the ramp construction, but Soliario’s is the only one “being totally taken by the commission” – I confess that I do not know exactly what that means).
Before I say another word, I should point out how unique a governmental body the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission truly is. You see, they have no oversight. None. If you tried to get a record of how much they collect in toll revenue, they can flip you off with impunity. They schedule highway construction which frequently takes years without the first regard for cost or inconvenience to the motorists who use the turnpike most every day. Also, their rest stops are truly horrendous – I’ve driven in about half of the states in the area of the eastern seaboard of this country, so I know what I’m talking about here. So for the commission to decide to condemn her property after declining immediate acceptance of their offer is totally in character for them – I’m surprised her lawyer was able to get through to someone to initiate an action.
I applaud Mrs. Solitario for “sticking to her guns” and also trying to do what’s best for the animals under her care, and I think she deserves much more than “fair value” for her property, but I have to clench my teeth here a bit and side with those life forms at the turnpike commission.
What the story from Susan Weidener of the Inquirer doesn’t mention is that the struggle – and that is the correct word – to build this slip ramp has been going on for at least 20 years (I don’t blame Weidener for that because the story is about Mrs. Solitario and not the construction project as a whole). I spent more years than I care to admit driving the turnpike to get to work, and believe me when I tell you that this slip ramp would have truly helped me with costs for tolls, gas, and vehicle maintenance. I’m sorry that people’s property is affected by this construction, but what are the people who work somewhere in the HUGE maze of office complexes in East Whiteland Township (where the Route 29 turnpike construction will take place) supposed to do? This is where their jobs are located (what would YOU do?). Is it the fault of the employees that more employers don’t offer telecommuting, for example, or that flexible scheduling isn’t mandated by state or federal law (which would help traffic flow)?
Let me put it to you this way; the last major road construction project that took place affecting Chester County was Route 476, linking the turnpike to Route 95 as part of what will eventually become the Philadelphia Beltway when similar construction is finished a few miles south of yours truly at the junction of the turnpike and I-95 (Route 476 is commonly known in these parts as the “Blue” Route…four original color-coded plans for road construction were submitted, and the “blue” plan was approved). The planning for the Blue Route began in 1961 before the Berlin Wall was constructed, and due primarily to court challenges, the road wasn’t finished until sometime after 1989 after the Berlin Wall fell. That tells you something about the “speed of change” in these matters in that area of southeastern Pennsylvania.
Once again, I wish Mrs. Solitario all the best, but it is long past time for the slip ramp to be built.