Q: Why has there never been a guide rail erected at the hard curve on Schantz Road at the Schantz Spring reservoir to protect the spillway from wayward vehicles? PennDOT rumble-stripped the center line last year, but no guide rail. Also, repeated runoff and flooding are eroding the bank of a steep, unprotected gully. A brick or stone wall once lined the one side of the road, helping prevent runoff, but it was removed years ago and at some point replaced by the guide rail.
— Ken Guldin, Lower Macungie Township
A: Steel guide rail protects the east side of Schantz Road in the area of the hairpin curve at the Schantz Spring water-collection system property, but not on the west side, where maintenance access to the spillway is needed. This stretch of road, which includes a one-lane bridge over a reservoir culvert, is in Lower Macungie, just northwest of the I-78/Route 309 split. No one I interviewed remembered the brick wall, and other measures now are used to control stormwater.
I recognized the need for maintenance access when I visited the site earlier this week, coming upon a crew from Imperial Excavating of Allentown making repairs and improvements under contract to the Lehigh County Authority, which assumed operation of the spring when it leased the Allentown water and sewer systems from the city last year. The authority steered more than $211 million the city's way in the controversial 50-year agreement.
Imperial Field Superintendent Chris Landis said the force of runoff water in the spillway over the years had undermined gabions — basically rough stone contained in wire baskets to slow the flow — and damaged some of the gabions themselves. The gabions had protected the stone walls of the spillway as it diverted the water to a pipe running beneath Route 309. (A box culvert — basically a concrete tunnel —does the same job for a concrete culvert just to the south; the one-lane bridge carries Schantz Road over the narrow culvert.)
The gabions are being replaced by a different material that will work in a different way. Imperial workers are lining the south wall of the spillway, which takes the brunt of the water's force, with solid blocks of concrete to bolster the wall and send the water down the spillway. Larger stone, or riprap, will be placed on the bed of the culvert to slow the flow; the riprap will withstand the force better than the smaller-stone gabions.
Landis said the flooding and runoff problems had caused some erosion at the road shoulders and in the spillway, "and this will help a lot" in both instances. It won't eliminate the periodic flooding though, he noted; the reservoir is at a low spot in the landscape, and nature will have its way.
LCA spokeswoman Liesel Adam agreed: "Stormwater management in Lehigh County is an ongoing initiative," she said, adding that improvements in one place aren't necessarily going to cure the problem in the larger area surrounding it.
Schantz Road "gets flooded very quickly," said Township Manager Bruce Fosselman, adding that he uses the route fairly frequently. He was happy to hear the authority is taking steps to improve the situation.
Though problems might arise on occasion, PennDOT spokesman Ron Young said officials are unaware of chronic road-damage problems related to runoff near the spillway. Shifting gears just a bit, I asked Young whether township residents or motorists have requested or petitioned for the replacement of the one-lane bridge with a modern, two-lane span.
There's been no such proposal, according to Young. He said the bridge is in pretty good shape, and I found no evidence to the contrary through my non-expert inspection. But the bridge is rated as functionally obsolete — meaning, basically, that it should be a two-lane bridge — and probably has been for many years. It was built in 1925, and hasn't needed major rehabilitation, Young said.
He added that requests for road or bridge improvements generally are made by municipalities and considered for inclusion on the Transportation Improvement Program, a matter determined by the Lehigh Valley Transportation Study, a committee of regional municipal and other transportation officials that advises PennDOT on transportation spending. Though PennDOT officials also are members of the study, Young said the state normally does not propose projects directly unless they have broader regional impact.
Fosselman said he wouldn't mind seeing the narrow bridge replaced by a two-lane version. "I should send myself an email" making the request, he joked.
All kidding aside, I think PennDOT should build a two-lane bridge there. This portion of Schantz Road serves as a link between Hamilton Boulevard/Minesite Road to the south and Cetronia Road in South Whitehall Township, near Integrated Health Campus, St. Luke's West End Medical Center, Tilghman Square and Kmart shopping centers and two major highway interchanges. An average of 5,321 vehicles traverse the stretch daily, and I'd bet the keys to a Porsche 911 that that would double immediately with a modern two-lane bridge in place. The link would take some traffic off Hamilton, where some motorists are reporting periods of congestion returning less than seven years after the opening of the $145 million Route 222 Bypass.
The one-lane bridge is a subcompact model, and under a PennDOT plan that aims to save money by replacing multiple small bridges of like design under a single contract, taking advantage of prefabricated components and economy of scale, it should be a relatively low-cost improvement.
Schantz Spring has been serving area residents since at least the late 1700s. Allentown officials, looking far down the road, purchased the property from miller David Koch in 1898 at a cost that now seems like a cool drink of water: $14,000.
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