Public learns about Shrewsbury interchange plans

Sean Philip Cotter

Southern York countians weren't quite sure what to make of the complex and unusual interchange state and local officials are proposing for the Shrewsbury exit from Interstate 83, but one thing seems to be generally agreed upon: It couldn't be any worse than what's there now.

I-83 Shrewsbury interchange, Monday March 28, 2016. John A. Pavoncello photo

"The current intersection is horrible," said Stewartstown resident Felicia Batten.

Batten was one of the locals who came to an open-house-type meeting Wednesday at the Shrewsbury Volunteer Fire Co. station at 21 W. Forrest Ave. to see and hear a presentation about a multi-million-dollar construction project that's aimed at turning that Exit 4 interchange between I-83 and Route 851 into less of the nightmare residents say it is now.

The interchange setup state Department of Transportation and locals are leaning toward is called a "double diverging diamond" interchange, or DDI for short.

With what's more or less one complex intersection on either side of the interchange, it splits the two directions of traffic and then has them criss-cross each other before doing the same in reverse at the other side of the exchange to get the road back to normal. It does so in a way that creates significantly fewer "conflict points" that create conditions that make crashes more likely, such as traffic turning left in front of traffic going straight the other direction.

This would be the second DDI in the state; the first is currently under construction out west in the area of Washington, Washington County, where a main road intersects with Interstate 70. In the fire station, a looping video kept showing a simulation of what that intersection will be like, and what it'll be like to drive on it. That I-70 DDI will be larger and have more lanes than the one at Exit 4 on I-83 would, but it's a very similar layout, and the same basic idea.

Residents: Batten, who'd been looking at several of the boards PennDOT had up around the firehouse showing the plans, said the DDI was hard to visualize.

"It looks a little confusing," she said, but she's not against it — something needs to change, she said. She said she'd waited through three light cycles before being able to turn left when coming home from work that day, and that's not unusual.

Sometimes, she said, she just turns right from southbound 83 and then turns around in a parking lot in order to go east on Route 851, rather than turning left.

Shrewsbury Township residents Joe and Debbie Buell said much the same. Joe said his biggest concern is when he's waiting to get off the interstate; because the ramps and acceleration and exit lanes are so short, traffic quickly backs up onto the highway, he said. So he always feels like someone on the highway is going to smash into him as he sits in his car.

"I'm scared to death of it," he said.

Plan: Under this plan — or under its more conventional "tight diamond" alternative, if there's suddenly major community opposition to the DDI — the ramps would be lengthened, and it'd be easier to turn right, so that would be less of an issue, said PennDOT spokesman Greg Penny.

Over the next few months, officials will decide which route to take, and then specific engineering will start. Construction will start at the earliest in spring 2018 and may take a couple of years, Penny said. It may cost as much as $17 million, paid for by PennDOT, he said. The bridge that carries the interstate over the surface road has deteriorated, so crews will replace it and lengthen it, which will allow trucks more space to turn.

State Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, supports the DDI. She said the top two ramps fall in her district, while the bottom two fall in that of Hanover Republican state Rep. Kate Klunk. With the intersection spanning three municipalities — Shrewsbury Township, Hopewell Township and the borough of Shrewsbury — there have been logistical hoops to jump through to get everyone on the same page and also to work out what will happen with the disruptions it will cause to drainage and utilities.

She said many such concerns were raised to PennDOT in previous meetings, and the organization did a good job of addressing them and answering questions.

"No one's going to derail the project," she said.

Shrewsbury Fire Chief Tony Myers also supports the DDI, saying it would improve public safety around the area.

"It'll decrease accidents," he said.

— Reach Sean Cotter or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD.