Long-time residents of Plymouth and Whitemarsh may recall a series of public information sessions in the late 1990s regarding proposed improvements and repairs to Ridge Pike, where traffic congestion has been a major issue for as long as almost anyone can remember.
Stuck in planning purgatory for years, the project finally received an official green light last month as part of Montgomery County's nearly $150 million capital project plan.
Phase 1 of the project will widen Ridge Pike between the Norristown borough line and Butler Pike in Plymouth. Phase 2 will continue the improvements eastward, through Whitemarsh Township, to the Philadelphia city line, providing for an additional lane in each direction. Turning lanes will be added to many intersections that currently lack them.
Widening the roadway, of course, means that the property owners on either side of the throughfare will be ceding some of their land to the county. The county's Board of Commissioners last week approved resolutions empowering the Montgomery County Transportation Authority to begin right-of-way acquisitions along the entire affected stretch of Ridge Pike. Much of the property will likely be acquired through the use of eminent domain power.
County Commissioner Leslie Richards, who lives in Whitemarsh, said most of the property that would be taken by the county consisted of "slivers of land."
About 25 properties west of Butler Pike, mostly commercial sites, will be affected, county communications director Frank Custer said. From Butler Pike to the city limits, about 125 properties would be affected.
"The vast majority of these would lose five to ten feet off their frontage," Custer said.
Custer said he was unaware of any residential or other properties that would need to be completely acquired by the county. A new series of public information sessions will be scheduled for Plymouth and Whitemarsh residents as the work approaches, Custer said.
An interesting historical note: the same stretch of Ridge Pike was originally widened to 50 feet, which remains its width in many sections, during The Great Depression. A February 1934 edition of the Reading Eagle reported that then, as now, the most problematic section was the span of road that crosses the railroad tracks just east of the Norristown borough line. At that time, the estimated cost to build bridges for Ridge Pike over the tracks was estimated at $203,000. According to the county's 2012 capital spending plan, the current estimate to overhaul those bridges and the associated sections of the elevated roadway stands at $15.1 million.