209 fee flap

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:57

    MILFORD n National Park Service officials admit that already congested traffic in the Milford and Dingman townships area could get worse in November. Water Gap Park Superintendent John Donahue said the problem is that a federal law allowing commercial traffic on Route 209 in the park expired on Sept. 30. The Park Service wants it renewed, but Congress has not acted on it. If that renewal doesn’t happen by November 1, the Park Service will further restrict commercial traffic, “as required by law,” Donahue said. New restictions would prohibit any commercial vehicles that do not either originate or make deliveries to the nine townships contiguous to the park. That amounts to 25 percent of the daily volume or about 200 trucks that will have to find alternate routes. Passed in 1996, to last 10 years, the law exempted Rt. 209 from commercial traffic restrictions in the national parks. Donahue said it was passed because no good alternatives existed and the traffic situation on surrounding roads would be worsened. The idea was that new construction over the period would provide alternatives, “but current reality...has not matched that vision,” Donahue said. PennDOT has upgraded two thirds of State Route 2001, which roughly parallels Rt.209, but construction may take up to two years to complete, Donahue said. PennDOT spokesman Mike Cotter said truckers used to use the highway as a shortcut, but existing Park Service restrictions on the road have already moved most of the truck traffic to the interstates. With the expiration of the law, the Park Service also stopped collecting the fees that they have charged non-local truckers. Donahue said those fees pay a portion of the park’s costs in regulating commercial traffic. For the next month no one will have to pay, but in November, rangers will begin to turn away non-local commercial traffic. The situation provides a double edged sword locally. Most local officials were pleased that truckers were discouraged from using the highway by the fees, but a more drastic prohibition could restrict trucks who must travel through the area to less serviceable roads. Milford Borough President Matt Osterberg said he didn’t want to see a return to the days of heavy truck use before the Park Service arrived, but neither would he welcome the idea of meeting truck traffic on winding portions of 2001. Dingman Township Supervisors Chair Tom Mincer said the situation was “ridiculous,” to channel traffic onto a road that cannot handle it, especially since federal lawmakers have known that the law would expire for years and have allowed the situation to arise. Donahue said US representatives Don Sherwood (who represents Pike) and Paul Kanjorsky have drafted renewal legislation. Sherwood spokesman Jake O’Donnell said Congress moved late because the Park Service did not ask for the legislation until very late. Sherwood and Kanjorsky have also notified the state’s two US Senators of the problem, but admitted that neither has yet to introduce needed mirroring legislation in the Senate. Congress, he said, currently is heavily involved with budget and hurricane relief legislation. Sherwood is trying to get the road legislation attached to another bill, which would avoid the lengthy Congressional committee approval and hearing process, O’Donnell said, but the future is “hard to tell. There are a lot of other bills,” he said.