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Applause for Reading mayor for making Penn Street gateway a smooth ride again [Opinion]

Sometimes you have to give credit where it’s due.

Two weeks ago in this space I discussed how befuddling it was that multiple city administrations ignored the plight of motorists who daily traversed the 200 block of Penn Street near the Gateway Building, with all of its dips, ruts, and patchwork of cold- and hot-patch and bubblegum.

Sitting in the sunken left-turn lane at the light at Third Street reminded me of the Reading Eagle Company’s back-up elevator. It would sometimes stop a half-foot below the floor. Stepping down onto an elevator that wasn’t plum took a leap of faith that many of us weren’t willing to take so we’d use the dingy metal stairs from the third-floor newsroom.

How could this be, I’ve wondered, given that the state embarked on a multi-year, $42.5 million project to rebuild the Penn Street Bridge as close to its original splendor as possible by human hands, and succeeded?

I wrote that column about six weeks after a crew for Haines & Kibblehouse began tearing up the surface of the 200 and 300 blocks of Penn and hauling it away by the truckload. The Reading Eagle office rattled with every scoop of a front-end loader.

The work was slowed somewhat by the discovery of trolley tracks, paved-over vestiges to the city’s streetcar days that ended in the middle of the last century, as I mentioned.

The morning I wrote that column, I tried to get in contact with a city official who could answer some of my questions, but we couldn’t connect.

Since then, I had the opportunity to talk to an official in Mayor Eddie Moran’s administration. He confirmed what I probably already knew: It was a difficult project so the previous administrations chose to do nothing.

That’s the cleaned-up version.

It was a big job, to be sure, and made for a noisy month or so in the Eagle offices.

The underlying soil was unstable — a large sinkhole opened up in the spring in the westbound lanes near the funeral home — so it required a lot of excavating (and prying up trolley tracks) and filling and compacting, followed by more filling and compacting, before a new asphalt surface could be poured.

Still, it’s not as if the city didn’t have considerable funds for paving and road construction projects.

During the 2016-19 term of Mayor Wally Scott, the city received an average of over $2 million per year in state Municipal Liquid Fuels tax revenue from the state.

Scott once publicly stated he didn’t care about the people who commute to the city for work, an incredible statement considering those workers support tax-revenue-producing businesses with their purchase of  goods and services on their lunch and morning coffee breaks. Don’t forget, non-residents who work in the city have been paying a commuter tax to the city for over a decade since Reading was accepted into the state’s recovery program for financially distressed cities.

Scott gave higher priority to restoring the air raid siren, a Cold War relic on the roof of City Hall that hadn’t been used for decades, than rebuilding the most important entrance to the city.

The irony is that moments after visitors were greeted by the former mayor’s electronic message board that proclaimed “The City of Positive Change,” their wheel rims and suspension systems  were treated harshly. As you pass the intersection with Second Street, you’re riding on the part of the road maintained by the city rather than PennDOT.

It was jarring, especially the right westbound lane, that traveling down the hill at more than 20 mph risked knocking out headlight bulbs.

Perhaps the Scott administration was intending to tackle the gateway reconstruction in a second term, but city voters didn’t grant him another four years. At least he left an accrued balance of $8.3 million in the Liquid Fuels account.

At an April press conference, the current mayor unveiled a two-year, $10 million street improvement plan. He said his goal was to make the city more walkable and accessible for everyone.

At the top of the lengthy list of projects were the 200 and 300 blocks of Penn.

“When I got elected I said the infrastructure of our city would be a priority,” Moran said at the time. “My intentions are always not to make promises but to do actions, and this is the outcome of that.”

For nearly two weeks, I along with thousands of other motorists have been rolling on Penn Street lanes as smooth as the coat of a seal pup as we enter or leave the city.

Bravo, Mayor Moran.

Source: Berkshire mont

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