Community of Interest Along Conchester Highway

I thank the LRC for welcoming comments on the preliminary legislative maps. As for the House, the proposed map for the 160th district is contiguous and compact, and it achieves the targeted population deviation. However, I would like to highlight a community of interest along the Conchester Highway that should play a larger role in the final House map of the LRC. The Conchester Highway is a portion of U.S. Route 322 that sits entirely in the southern portion of Delaware County. It runs from Concord Township (at U.S. 1 or Baltimore Pike) through Bethel Township and Upper Chichester Township before it merges with U.S. 95. It also connects communities who share and neighbor the highway but do not immediately border it (Thornbury Township, Chester Heights Township, and Aston Township) within this small, connected region. Conchester Highway is the major artery which connects this community, not only as a transportation corridor, but also as a commerce center, an interchange of parishes and churches, mutually supportive fire and police services and cross-populated youth sports programs. In fact, there is both an indoor and outdoor privately-owned sports facility that serves children overwhelmingly from the municipalities along the corridor. In addition, the Conchester Highway corridor is amid a tremendous expansion and upgrade along its entire length. The 322 project is divided into four phases: one in Concord (which has been completed), one in Bethel and Upper Chichester (which will be the last to be completed), one entirely in Upper Chichester (which was slated to begin in 2022 but has remaining property-use issues), and one at the I-95 interchange (which is also in Upper Chichester and should have already begun but also has been delayed by land-use disputes with the railroad). Of paramount importance here, the length of the Conchester Highway corridor has benefited from having a single state representative responsible for its entire length. That has resulted in negotiations with PennDOT about sound barriers, about easements and other land-use disputes, about egress and ingress issues for residents whose customary transportation conduits were rerouted (especially for seniors), about access to businesses along the corridor which will now see certain turns no longer available to their customers (and which businesses will have a new frontage road a part of the plans), and about off-artery improvements that become necessary as drivers seek other ways of traversing the area. For example, there will be a new roundabout on a road that serves both Bethel and Upper Chichester, which was a direct result of advocacy by the state representative. Further, the current condition of the Conchester Highway where the project has not yet begun is awful. For years, the larger project has allowed PennDOT to neglect regular maintenance of the road. It is the state representative and that office who have been forceful advocates in addressing repair issues while the timetable for highway improvements continues to slide. Representatives for the communities to the east and north (who do not use the highway daily like those municipalities on and near this small stretch of road) have historically shown no interest in the corridor. Not only does the Conchester Highway literally connect this community of interest, it is also a vital economic conduit. Along with Highways 1 and 202, the Conchester Highway is the one significant connector of shopping, healthcare and senior communities near the Concordville Towne Center at one end to major shopping and businesses along Pennell Road in Aston and shopping, businesses, and the township government and police in Upper Chichester at the other end. The parks of all these municipalities are shared and used by all the people along the corridor. To be clear – this is not about a road of interest – the road ties together a community of interest. As noted, church goers around the highway cross municipal lines to attend church together; they cross municipal lines to play sports together; they watch fireworks together; they share veterans’ posts across municipal boundaries; and they share a common rural Delaware County history which in turn shapes their view of common historic preservation in their respective towns. Splitting these towns into different legislative districts is to dilute them, making their concerns less relevant to the several representatives. It is acknowledged that the current map separates out Chester Heights, Aston and portions of Upper Chichester from this vital community of interest such that each of the three is served by different representatives. That is a flaw of the current map that should be addressed. However, the LRC proposed map continues the theme of splitting the corridor. Although it returns Chester Heights to the area, it continues the disassociation of Aston and then removes the entirety of Upper Chichester to the neighboring 159th District. Citizens and elected leaders of Upper Chichester have voiced their opinion that they would rather continue the current split between two legislative districts than be completely severed from the 322 corridor, their community of affiliation and interest. The communities along and influenced by the Conchester Highway corridor should be reunited as a community of interest in much the same way as a school district. That includes the addition of Thornbury, Chester Heights, Aston and Upper Chichester into the 160th. Thank you