Northeast Times - April 17, 2008
Somerton Group Votes Against Woodhaven Plan

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Somerton group votes against Woodhaven plan

By William Kenny
Times Staff Writer

Mary Jane Hazell knew that members of the Somerton Civic Association wouldn’t like the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s latest proposal for extending Woodhaven Road.
In the wake of a series of public meetings last month where neighbors were encouraged to offer their views on the project, Hazell said that the plan would only hurt local residents and businesses.
Last week, SCA members made their opposition official as they voted unanimously against PennDOT’s so-called Parkway Concept, taking the cue from their organization’s president as well as a local business owner.
In addition to voting against the latest plan, residents signed a petition demanding that PennDOT keep intact the existing Byberry Road bridge that spans the CSX railroad just east of Worthington Road with its 3-ton weight limit. The weight restriction essentially prevents most large trucks from crossing into predominately residential areas of the neighborhood to the west.
Both Hazell and Randy Liebowitz — who owns the Northeast Car Connection, Blatt Service and Tire Company and Enterprise Car Sales — spoke against the new plan during the civic meeting.
"I believe that the state and PennDOT have to listen to us," said Liebowitz, who also identified himself as an SCA member and financial contributor.
Under the proposal, the state agency would build a parkway-style road westward from the existing terminus of the Woodhaven Expressway (state Route 63). The new road would essentially parallel Byberry Road and end in a new intersection at Bustleton Avenue, just north of the Leo Mall. The price tag has been estimated at $30 million.
Liebowitz’s businesses are among dozens on Byberry Road between the bridge and Roosevelt Boulevard. For years, many of those businesses have benefited from heavy vehicle traffic largely caused by Woodhaven Road. Under PennDOT’s new plan, most of that traffic would be re-routed, as Byberry Road would end in cul-de-sacs on both sides of the railroad.
Echoing criticisms also expressed by Hazell and other community leaders, Liebowitz said that the new plan, if approved, would hurt not only businesses, but local residents, too.
He argued that many westbound motorists would avoid using the Woodhaven Parkway and instead get off the expressway at Roosevelt Boulevard to pick up local streets like Southampton Road. Yet other motorists would use the new parkway only as far as Worthington Road, Liebowitz argued, then would end up back on Byberry Road to continue westward.
Meanwhile, trucks would have free access to the parkway as the new bridge would not have a weight restriction.
"We do not want trucks in our neighborhood," Liebowitz said.
The business owner accused project officials of withholding from the community their intent to connect the Byberry West Industrial Park directly to the new Woodhaven Road via Hornig Road. In recent weeks, those project officials have categorically denied the alleged Hornig Road connection.
Specifically, Liebowitz’s petition makes the following demands of PennDOT:
• That the agency discontinue further discussions involving the "Parkway" concept.
• That it not replace the existing Byberry Road bridge over the CSX railroad.
• That it maintain the 3-ton weight restriction on the bridge.
• That it restrict all truck traffic from using the bridge to access the "Somerton area" to the west.
• That it dismiss the plan to create cul-de-sacs on Byberry Road.
Several years ago, the Somerton Civic Association endorsed a prior PennDOT proposal to build a limited access road connecting the existing expressway with Philmont Avenue near the Montgomery County border. Under that plan, Byberry Road would have remained a continuous city street. But residents of the Westwood section of Somerton and suburban communities opposed the plan.
Ultimately, PennDOT withdrew the plan citing a state budget crunch.
Now, project officials are preparing a "supplemental draft environmental impact study" for the latest version of the project. Once the study is complete, PennDOT will schedule a formal public hearing next year.
"All they’re really doing is wasting taxpayers’ money on a project that nobody wants," Liebowitz said.••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or