Over the last 7 years this event has grown! Each year more is added to do. My hope is this event eventually grows into a proper yearly township fair. It’s getting closer. For 2017 we introduce “Music on the lawn”. Entertainment under a tent with seats. I’ll be there. And I hop to see you!
Last night we joined other Lehigh Valley communities including Lehigh County in adopting a resolution that supports a citizens commission for legislative redistricting. This is a potential solution to address severe gerrymandering issues in our state.
Gerrymandering is when partisan politicians manipulate voting maps to keep themselves in power. When they do this they shape election outcomes before any vote is even cast. Essentially, it’s when politicians choose voters instead of voters choosing their elected officials. The problem has been around for ages, but today with sophisticated data and mapping technologies it’s gotten much worse.
The resolution we passed encourages our state elected officials to enact a bill that would create an independent citizen redistricting commission. This is an essential step toward fair, transparent and accountable elections by removing partisanship from the process.
Interesting discussion today at the Traffic Impact Fee Advisory Committee (TIFAC) meeting. The committee convened to update our traffic impact fee ordinance. Impact fees are a mechanism that Lower Mac utilizes to assess fees on new development in proportion to new impacts created. Funds collected are used to improve roadways impacted by developments. Some conversation today centered around the Lower Mac and Cedar Crest Intersection pictured below. Cedar Crest is a PennDOT identified congested corridor. And for good reason. It’s one of the most problematic in the area. Unfortunate reality is that even with impact fees there is little the township can do to improve it. The intersection is constrained by space, topography and a bridge. To address the intersection with these issues would be massively expensive.
The way we address this and similar intersections around the township, or at least prevent them from becoming worse is to avoid additional development nearby. Here is where the old sports adage applies. The best offense is a good defense. In this case aggressive land preservation.
Lower Mac accomplished this on the Farr Tract (adjacent to this intersection) in part by working with a developer on an alternative plan with only 17 estate lot units as opposed to an initial concept of 90+ shoe horned homes. The township took a proactive role and did 3 things here:
- First, we pushed back against the much more intensive and impactful plan by expressing our concerns. When the developer asked us to change the zoning to allow more units. We rejected the request.
- Next, we tried to purchase the property in partnership with the Wildlands. Unfortunately, this didn’t come to fruition. But we put our skin in the game. We took a swing.
- And finally, when a much less impactful development scenario was presented as an alternative we supported it. And will continue to.
Our proactive role helped result in a better project. The nearby “Dorney” tracts on Lower Mac Rd. (all the signs you see up recently) is another example. The properties have been placed on the townships official map. This telegraphs our interest in preservation and gives us the chance to make an offer if development scenarios are presented.
Related as we try to better manage development along Cedar Crest unfortunately, Emmaus Borough has recently made decisions contrary. Despite opposition in letter form from both Lower Mac and Upper Milford, last year Emmaus approved an overlay district on the Indian Creek golf course that resulted in it’s current development. The project being built (I voted against it) is severely access constrained. Shoe horned. And it makes the corridor issues more complicated. Over the last month things have gotten worse. We now have a question on the table of whether or not the property will only have one access on Indian Creek Rd. PennDOT has ( and correct to do so) concerns about how another proposed access point would impact Chestnut Street. Because of the Emmaus decision to enact this overlay, Upper Milford and Lower Macungie must now deal with additional problems. The Borough was entirely in the drivers seat to change the zoning. But they didn’t have to deal with any of the problems. We do, along with Upper Milford. What’s done is done. But I hope moving forward we avoid this sort of mistake.
In conclusion, the impact fee is a much needed tool. But we’re to the point we can no longer rely on building our way out of problems with new tuning lanes and signals. In many locations the best strategy is to avoid the need entirely. That means preservation and encouraging less intense development. The impact fee study as a warning not a roadmap. It outlines worse case scenarios. Through better land use planning we can avoid those scenarios. It’s better to spend our dollars on preservation than endless traffic upgrades which end of the day only represent band-aids. Upper Milford has been proactive as well recently instituting a funding mechanism solely for the preservation of open space. We are both doing our part. We all need to get on the same page.
This past Friday we held a long overdue local freight summit of sorts to address ongoing Truck issues. This is the biggest problem we face as a community. Both a safety and quality of life issue. The problems have gotten worse over the last year. Not better.
The attendees were:
Myself. LMT Manager, Planner, Code Enforcement Officer and Engineer. State Rep. Ryan Mackenzie. Jon Nederostak from the State Police, The Alburtis Borough Manager and Police Chief, Various PennDOT officials, The LVPC and a representative of the major leasers of warehouse space in the township. (Liberty Properties)
I thought first I would update on a number of specific issues raised. Going from the immediate goals to longer term goals. First the short term. Signs & Enforcement.
- Willow Ln. – Will be signed in the coming weeks. It is already restricted to trucks but signs will act as an additional deterrent. After installation it will be added to PSP enforcement rotations.
- Mertztown Rd. – A formal request has been made to PennDOT from the township to add restriction signage. Though the PennDOT representatives present were non-committal, I’d be shocked if the request isn’t granted. The road is already restricted (since it isn’t on state truck routes map) but the absence of signs has meant trucks are using the road on a daily basis.
- Spring Creek Rd. – A long awaited sign package requested by the Township and Borough a few months ago for Spring Creek Rd. has been approved. Signs are ordered and should be up in a few days. This includes directional signage to be placed before the turn onto Mertztown Rd. indicating “Congdon Hill Rd. straight ahead”. This is to keep trucks from mistakingly turning onto Mertztown Rd. We will also get signage for Spring Creek Rd. indicating that trucks cannot proceed further past Congdon Hill. and into the Borough of Alburtis. There are no signs presently indicating this. The Borough reps were very pleased they are coming. Again, long overdue.
- Alburtis Borough gave out 51 tickets last month. This number has been increasing. I asked directly if that’s because there are more violations. The answer was yes. This is the best indicator that until now the problem has gotten worse not better.
- The State Police DO ticket trucks in Lower Macungie Twp. They will begin giving the township regular reports on the numbers and types of tickets given.
- Further the State Police will be conducting a targeted truck enforcement blitz next month. This is designed to maximize enforcement visibility.
- Longer term goals.
- The state currently does not allow the signage of local truck routes beyond those identified on existing truck route maps. For example, we are currently unable to put up local signage directing trucks to I-78 or the bypass from Spring Creek Rd. or other clusters of warehouses. Similar requests have been made over the last few months by Upper Macungie Twp. This is an item I was glad that State Rep. Mackenzie was present to hear first hand. In fact he brought up a good question (one that’s the been asked before) of whether proactive signs were being used. Meaning signs indicating ‘go this way’, as opposed to ‘don’t go this way’. I’m happy he was present to hear the answer we get from PennDOT and the corresponding frustration with that answer. I’m hoping this gets solved and I think Mackenzie can help.
- The issue repeatedly is 3rd party carriers. Those facilities with fleet drivers normally are able to keep their deliveries on the appropriate routes. The issue is that some drivers are coming to the area for the first and probably last time. In other words it’s not a fixed route for them. These are (confirmed by Alburtis PD and PSP) the drivers unfamiliar with the area who are creating a lot of the issues. They tend to over-rely on GPS which is the catalyst of much of the havoc. PennDOT officials at the meeting unfortunately expressed skepticism that the GPS issues will be solved “anytime soon”. . . Very problematic. I will also say I’m disappointed that during some approval hearings we were led to believe that carriers would be majority fleet for some operations. That hasn’t been the case.
- Related to above we’re working with the facilities to beef up signage in truck lounges and elsewhere on the property. This is needed, but not a magic bullet. The issue is, that so much of the delivery and pickup process is automated – some drivers come and go from the property without going inside.
- Global issues. Hopefully avoiding being redundant I mentioned more than once at the meeting that the basket of strategies outlined above are important and will help us turn the tide so to speak. But, that I believe the problems will persist. We know this because Upper Macungie is ahead of us in terms of an aggressive signage program, enforcement and working with facilities. Yet they still face the same issues. Upper Mac is a crystal ball in a lot of ways. I only say this to drive home the point that the solution to these problems is something neither Lower Mac, Upper Mac or any other Valley community has tried before. It was said multiple times that these problems are completely unique to our region. Therefore there exists no blueprint on how to address them. And in a lot of ways, the state doesn’t enable us to think outside the box since no other area faces the same concentration of these types of warehouses as we do in the Lehigh Valley.This is why it’s essential to have the support of Pat Browne and Ryan Mackenzie. Which I believe we do. But that has to translate into action. It was very important to have Ryan present to hear the stakeholders talk through the frustrations. I believe strongly, that some of the long term answers are legislative.
- A few ideas that have been brought up.
- I am personally convinced the answer lies in holding the facilities and operators accountable. Signs and enforcement while a necessary proactive step, is similar to a dog chasing tail approach. It’s a never-ending (and expensive) commitment that never totally solves the problem. So the thought is, since every driver communicates with the facility or business they are delivering to, therein lies the opportunity to apply pressure to the businesses to make sure they communicate to drivers appropriate routes. Problem is we (the township) have no hammer to be able to require this. We need the ability to create ordinances that hold businesses accountable. Fines should not be levied on the individual drivers (This is unfair, and because of the #’s of independent drivers ineffective) but rather the companies. Common sense dictates end of the day they are in the best position to proactively address issues before they become problems.
- Camera or otherwise automated enforcement. The fundamental problem with signs is that to be totally effective there are areas of the township where we need constant enforcement. This is because of the 24/7 nature of the operators. So this becomes a resources problem. Time + money. Automated enforcement would help.
- Impact fees. Related to all these potential solutions is an additional cost burden on the township. Some of the new facilities that do not employ many people generate very little local revenue we can use to mitigate problems. This is a big reason why we need the ability to assess an impact fee. This would be something that would have to be enabled by Harrisburg. Perhaps in the form of a Dock fee? Bottom line is that often these facilities create major liabilities but generate little new revenue for the host municipality. A warehouse with few employees means the township collects little LST revenue. Since our municipal property tax is so low that revenue stream is very small. (and only way to address that is to raise taxes on everyone which we won’t do) So, this leaves us high and dry in terms of implementing strategies to address issues.
- Physical restrictions – This is a tough one, but again – all options need to be on the table. Chicanes and or other artificial barriers to physically stop trucks from going where they should not be.
Drifting into the national realm for a second before heading back to the regularly scheduled program of state and local thoughts. I am really interested in feedback on this.
First, I don’t love Donald Trump. He’s an opportunist and a con man on the grandest scale. A populist, not a conservative. A boorish man child. The way he conducts himself is a national embarrassment. I supported a 3rd party candidate in the election.
That being said, I’ve made an effort to evaluate his policies objectively. Sometimes I agree, sometimes I don’t. Even if most of the time I disagree with his tact and execution.
So, with the budget and how it fits into my worldview. Some thoughts:
1.) To preface. Fundamentally, I believe the Federal Government has over time expanded far beyond it’s original intended scope. The result of which is a national debt that’s reached crippling levels. A burden unsustainable. A system broken. I believe as a core value that MANY Federal programs and areas should be divested to the states and/or local governments en masse. And that’s what this budget could do. (This principle in a nutshell is why I identify as a Conservative)
2.) LOTS of sky is falling alarmism right now. This is the nature of 2 party politics. The sky is not falling. Here is a local example of the alarmism.
3.) At cursory glance, I agree with about half or more of the Federal cuts the Trump budget proposes. This does not mean I don’t support the goals of some of these programs. In fact for many I do. It’s important for conservatives to explain this.
3a.) For example, let’s take the proposed elimination of TIGER and CDBG grants. These are both programs that have accomplished measureable good. They were largely created in support goals that I support. And are both promoted by advocacy groups I associate with. (For ex. Smart Growth America). They are admirably intentioned programs.
But both are inherently wasteful. Largely in part because they are administered by the Federal Government as clumsy top down programs. The administration of both grants absolutely hemorrhages money. They are inefficient. Cronyism, waste and fraud are rampant. Both are products of a federal system where influential legislators are rewarded based on political maneuvering not merit or need. In a word. Pork.
The problem isn’t once the money (finally) gets into the right hands. It’s the process by which that happens. And the strings that come attached. That’s where the waste occurs and cronyism is reality. The solution is cut the middle man (the federal government) and therefore cut the waste, cronyism, special interests and federal strings entirely out of the picture.
4.) I believe that cutting the Federal Government completely out of the picture on many proposed programs would result in more money for issues I care about. I’ve said this in this space many times:
Send 1 dollar to your local government get .95 cents back.
Send 1 dollar to you county government get .75 cents back.
Send a dollar to your state government get half the value back.
Send a dollar to Washington DC and get back an I.O.U.
All told the average American pays 15% of their income in federal taxes. It’s a totally inequitable system where 40% skirt paying anything at all. It’s not (for me at least) an unwillingness to pay taxes. I personally pay MORE than my fair share. It’s a desire to get a better measurable return on those dollars.
5.) As a ballpark reduce the federal tax burden by a minimum of 20%. This roughly the amount of non-military Federal discretionary spending today. And with that I’d gladly pay a portion of that money to state and local governments and in turn reap much higher return on investment. Even if the money returned to the local level was half the amount the returns would far exceed what we lose in the top down system now.
No, I’m not of the “get government out of everything” cloth. Many conservatives get painted with this brush unfairly. What I do believe in is divesting the role of the Federal Government from (almost) everything not outlined in the Constitution.
6.) Give states and local governments the freedom and resources to create, fund and administer novel programs. Return to the idea of a laboratory of democracy. This is the way our country was designed to function. The way it functions best. (Marijuana policy as an example). Incrementalism creates resiliency. A state creates a program that works? Other states will emulate. A state creates a program that does not? The impacts are limited to that state.
A local example, Allentown’s Community Bike Works is a good program that apparently gets a chunk of funding from the federal Government. Valuable program. Serves the community well. I support it. I just believe that funding it at the local level with local dollars would make it stronger. I’d much rather pay a little more in local taxes for stronger programs in return for sending less of my income to the DC swamp.
7.) I believe the government can be an effective tool to get important things done, but I DO NOT believe in redistribution. States are the appropriate levels of government to choose (should voters desire) spending money on novel social programs and that local governments are the appropriate place to choose to invest in discretionary items.
The reason is further down you go, the more direct oversight residents have over how your tax dollars are spent. And the more direct role you play in Democracy. The higher up you go the further removed you are and inherently wasteful programs tend to be.
8.) I believe that when conservatives outline this argument in a thoughtful way we bring people into our tent. This is a problem I have with Trump and Trumpism. The mindset shouldn’t be “defeat the enemy”, it should be win them over with ideas.
9.) I believe most Americans inhabit a space somewhere between a right wing mindset of “burn the government to the ground” and a leftist mindset that Washington DC should be the center of a centrally planned universe. This space between is essentially federalism. And we need to more clearly communicate that.
Last week we had a request from a resident to consider a resolution in support of gerrymandering reform legislation. Specifically, one that supports a citizens commission for legislative redistricting. This is similar to a request made in front of Lehigh County a few weeks ago. County Commissioners passed a resolution in favor. Here is the article. Whitehall Township also is considering similar a resolution.
Pennsylvania is one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation. Gerrymandering is when politicians draw the borders of their own voting districts to protect and give unfair advantages to incumbents. When this happens, instead of voters choosing their elected officials, politicians choose their voters. Because of this many districts are no longer competitive. Each year a growing number of candidates run unopposed. Voters in those districts no longer have a choice. Because of this partisan hackery, gridlock in Harrisburg gets worse and worse.
Here is a video from Fairdistricts PA which overviews the problem.
I have written about this problem many times on this blog and I 100% support the request to draft and pass a resolution strongly urging elected officials in Harrisburg to tackle the problem. This is a basic and essential good government reform.
The fair question here is why should a local municipality take the time to draft and pass a non-binding resolution? Well for one thing this kind of advocacy is actually outlined as one of our responsibilities in the Township Commissioner Handbook.
“The commissioners’ role as a legislator is not confined to enacting township laws. Elected officials represent the township and are expected to be concerned with and at times, attempt to influence state legislation affecting their municipality. The General Assembly considers legislation affecting all townships, all local governments in Pennsylvania and each individual municipality or region.
As representatives of the township, commissioners are in a position to exert some influence on the decisions of state legislators. The relationship between commissioners and legislators is more effective if the board takes an official position by adopting a resolution prior to contacting their legislators.” – Township Commissioners Handbook 4th edition
So how does gerrymandering impact Lower Macungie Twp.? For starters, we rely on our state elected officials to advocate on behalf of our township in Harrisburg. So much of what we do at the township level is determined and dictated by decisions made at the state level. When districts are gerrymandered in extreme ways state officials represent districts that make no geographic sense. Often times including vastly different areas with very different concerns and needs. In the very worse cases districts aren’t even contiguous. Meaning they can have donut holes or islands. This makes the whole process of advocacy less effective. It’s not the case, but in theory – Let’s say Lower Mac was cherrypicked by one district and Alburtis another. This would mean each area would be represented by a different legislator. Makes no sense since both face the same issues, share a border and share infrastructure needs. (Exhibit ‘A’ would be the truck issue)
So we definitely should have concerns for local townships who want most effective advocacy from our state officials. The 134th right now is pretty spread out, but again nowhere near the worse example. However this can always change if state parties decide they want to arbitrarily protect an incumbent for political gain.
The system today is political instead of objective. As a local elected official we have an obligation to be concerned with and at times, attempt to influence state legislation affecting or potentially affecting our municipality. The best way we can accomplish this it is to pass a formal resolution and urge Senator Pat Browne and Rep. Ryan Mackenzie to both support (or continue to support) bi-partisan redistricting reform. Browne and two other area State Senators representing the Lehigh Valley already do. Lisa Boscola (D) (representing Emmaus) is a prime sponsor. Pat Browne (R) (representing Lower Mac) and Mario Scavello (R have joined as co-sponsors. Browne chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee, and is one of the most influential legislators in the state. Very important as a township that we support him and others in this good government reform effort.
So when I see errant trucks on residential roads in our township I tend to (time permitting) follow them. I do this fairly often (since it happens very often) in an effort to try to figure out where they are coming from or heading to and why they end up in the wrong places (often dangerous places) so frequently.
Here is an example from last week where I happened to have someone in the car with me to take photos. My intention here is not to call out the individual driver (though in this case he exhibited some pretty egregious decision making) but rather continue to shine a light on the issue in an effort to try to find the solution. Not a bandaid, but the solution.
Variations of what you see below have become a common occurrence on the townships road network. On a daily basis.
So first, this is what it’s like staring down an oncoming truck on Willow Ln. The worst part happens just before this when the truck forces your right wheels almost entirely off the road and into someones front yard. *Note we actually got word today that PennDOT is honoring the townships request to post signs restricting trucks on Willow Ln. This of course is only part of the battle. As now the inevitable need to enforce the signs is the next step.
Clearly lost, a little further along still on Willow Lane (after a couple more encroachments at the S turns after the bridge) The truck pulled over for a good 5 minutes. Blocking the crosswalk. Probably I would guess seeking directions. Those directions (as evidenced in the following photos) did not help. . .
You would think the truck is heading to Rt. 100. And you’d be correct. But not before an inexplicable detour around Willow Lane Elementary/Fire Station. Next the truck took a right onto Millcreek Rd. making a big circle around the fire dept. WLES. Here in this photo it is turning onto Sauerkraut Ln. Blatantly ignoring that Sauerkraut is restricted “no trucks”.
Finally making it out to Rt. 100, here the truck lines up to make the right hand turn taking up the entire left turn lane of Willow. Any car that gets into the right lane will be in a blind spot.
So now we got a straight shot to the trucks destination on Industrial Blvd.? (Pratt Industries) You would think, but not quite yet. Some more inexplicable decision making and subsequent havoc to cause first. Next our truck adventure takes a detour onto Gehman Rd. Here is where the fun really begins.
Next maneuver takes two pictures. Upon approaching Scenic View the truck sees and apparently decides to obey the signs prohibiting trucks from heading further up to Mountain Rd. This is good. As a ton of property damage has been done up that way. So instead of taking Scenic View (which I have argued in the past should be restricted as it ends up being the “turnaround”) The truck executes a jack-knifed u-turn.
The rest of the story is comparatively un-eventful. Just your standard multiple oncoming traffic encroachments but the driver managed to finally and thankfully without an accident make it to the destination (Pratt) on Industrial Blvd via Rt. 100 to Alburtis Rd.
I’m going to answer or give my opinions on a bunch of comments I got on the poll I conducted last week about the proposed fee for state police. See the results here. One item I wanted to address right away. It deals with the notion that State Police do not enforce local truck restrictions.
This is not true. They do enforce local truck restrictions. From Trooper Nederostak who is the townships primary liaison to the PSP – “Under section 6121 of Title 75, PA Vehicle Code, PSP is authorized to enforce any signage the township erects so long as it is an approved Traffic Control Device. Approved Traffic Control Devises are listed in a Federal Regulation titled “Manual on Uniform Traffic-Control Devices for Streets and Highways.” In essence, as long as you are putting up an approved sign, we absolutely enforce it.”
They also respond to the townships guidance in terms of where trouble spots are. We also notify them of any new restriction. Most recently, Quarry, Creamery and Schoeneck Roads. In the near future Spring Creek and Trexlertown Rd. In other words we have an excellent and responsive working relationship.
Bottom line is PSP can and do enforce. They frequently patrol numerous truck trouble spots in the township. The problem as I see it is that enforcement alone isn’t the answer. And this is no matter who our provider is. Our issues relate to the fact that warehouses were allowed to be built (by prior boards) in horrible locations. To address the issue with enforcement would requirement officers in multiple locations 24 hours a day 7 days a week. That’s just not reasonable – again, whether we use the state police or would have a local or regional police force. I believe we could spend the many millions of dollars on a local force and most residents would not notice much of a change. The state police do an excellent job.
Now the fundamental question of whether it’s fair or not is valid. But as long as we have them (paying for them or not) they do an excellent job. And as stated above they DO enforce local truck restrictions.
Over the last week I conducted a poll on my Facebook page about police services and the proposed fee being considered by the Governor and others. I use Facebook polls because the software limits votes to one per person. With it I can also reasonably check that folks who say they live in the township do. So while not scientific it’s a decent snapshot.
Here are the results:
Of township respondents 57% felt the state police provided excellent service (ranked 5 or 4, 5 being the highest). 14% felt the state police were offering a poor level of service.
This project is not in Lower Mac but it’s of interest for a number of reasons. First, this directly deals with the proposed Adams Rd. interchange. And second, since it shows a demand for smaller (but still very highly impactful) warehouses. Something other communities should monitor carefully. Even though each individual unit is small, the cumulative impact of having a number of them built on the same corridor is still significant. Something to watch closely. We should anticipate the same demand in Lower Mac and plan accordingly. When land becomes sparser for the mega facilities we have to be careful we don’t start getting these types projects.
This demonstrates why it’s important to not only pay close attention to what’s going on in our community but also our neighbors. Here is some newspaper coverage.
The sketch referred to in the article wasn’t included in any of the articles so I went down to the Upper Mac township building filled out a quick right to know form and got a copy. (see below) I want to say, this only took a few minutes. And the front desk lady was extremely nice and helpful.
There are a couple things to note:
1.) Adams Rd. interchange. This signals what many felt was going to be a problem. The new 30 million interchange is being proposed as an “outlet valve” to address existing traffic issues. This will certainly be paid for with state and federal dollars. The issue becomes if the area around the proposed new interchange is allowed to be built up with additional high impact uses we end up with the same problems. This cycle is called induced demand. And it’s a concern. The Adams Rd. interchange is a regionally important project. It’s on Upper Macungie to make sure it functions as it’s intended by influencing what gets built near it. That is to make sure it fixes existing issues. Not to induce more high impact projects. We want to solve the problem. Not create a whole host of new problems.
2.) This is not a good plan. Uninspiring. Encroaches on the Village of Fogelsville. Very heavy traffic generation. Highly impactful. That being said, this area is zoned for development. So the question isn’t stopping growth, it’s what eventually gets built. My opinion is what would work very nicely here is a traditional neighborhood development residential project. An excellent low impact neighborhood friendly fit for the area. Think of it as a project that would expand and compliment the existing character of Fogelsville instead of encroaching onto and straining it. Assume something will be built here. The question is what?
I’m very interested how conversations are going with Upper Mac planners and the development team. This isn’t in Lower Mac. But the Adams Rd. interchange and development that happens around it will impact us.