October 21, 2016 9:35 AM, EDT

Proposed Trucking Route Raises Traffic Concerns for Pennsylvania Town

Rendering of new the ethane cracker plant. Image by Shell

Shell Chemicals Co. will operate a laydown yard in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, to store materials for the construction of its ethane cracker plant, but two local officials are concerned about the route those trucks could take to get to the facility.

The details of that route are laid out in Shell’s conditional-use application that was submitted to Potter Township and the Beaver County Planning Commission.

The information in the application is preliminary, but it offers a glimpse into plans for the construction of Shell’s multibillion-dollar ethane cracker plant along the Ohio River in Potter.

According to the conditional-use document, about 100 trucks daily will travel between the laydown yard on Woodlawn Road in Aliquippa to the cracker site. Trucks will travel down Route 51 through South Heights before turning onto Route 151 and then Interstate 376 in Hopewell Township. The route continues westbound on the interstate to Route 18 and the cracker site.

The proposed route is raising the eyebrows of officials in South Heights and Hopewell, especially because the route would add 100 trucks to an already congested area where Route 151 crosses Brodhead Road.

According to the application, the trucks will operate day and night but not during peak traffic volumes in morning and afternoon shift changes at the cracker plant. Shell estimated each trip between the laydown yard and the cracker site will take about 30 minutes.

Norman Kraus Jr., Hopewell Township manager, said Shell’s proposed route is certainly the “most expedient way for them to go, no doubt,” between Aliquippa and the cracker site. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have concerns about the trucks traveling Route 151, especially when the road intersects at the “five points” at Brodhead Road.

Traffic is already highly congested in the area because of nearby construction and road work, Kraus said, and adding 100 trucks daily would be a “whole new ballgame” for traffic concerns in the area.

Kraus made sure to note that he isn’t complaining about Shell’s arrival, but he also said it’s important to start planning for the future.

“We’ve had residual interests [from businesses] coming to Hopewell because of Shell, and we’re very appreciative of what’s going on,” he said, “but at the same time, we have to look at how that will affect us. One hundred trucks is a lot. That’s going to definitely cause us a lot more headaches than we planned for.”

Kraus called Shell a “phenomenal opportunity for Beaver County, but at the same time, we have to look at the drawbacks it could cause us."

Shell’s planned route "is the easiest way for them to go, but some questions have to be answered here,” he said.

Kraus said the biggest drawback is that there are plenty of hilly areas on the proposed route. Large trucks surely will be used in the hauling process, and those trucks usually have issues climbing inclines at slow speeds.

The “five points” intersection at Route 151 and Brodhead has its own problems, Kraus said, but another intersection on the proposed route could cause even more headaches.

Trucks returning from the cracker plant would use the same route, just reversed. That means trucks reaching the end of Route 151 just south of South Heights would have to make a left turn onto Route 51.

That intersection has only a stop sign but no stoplight, although Shell said in its conditional-use application that it’s considering installing a temporary traffic light there.

According to Shell’s application, a traffic study showed the current situation wouldn’t cause any traffic delays but could be “undesirable from a safety perspective.”

Kraus disagreed and said he sat for 15 minutes at that intersection waiting to turn left onto Route 51. Granted, he was trying to make the turn at peak congestion in the afternoon, a time when Shell said it would limit truck traffic.

The issue also caused concerns in South Heights. Council President Bob Schmetzer said he learned Oct. 20 that the trucking route goes right through the heart of the borough. He called it “really troublesome” to consider such an increase in traffic, especially because a large majority of the borough’s residents live along Route 51.

“This is a residential zone, and it’s always been very hazardous for people to cross the street,” he said. “There are already lots of wrecks because people speed through here.”

He said the same about the intersection with Route 151.

“We have a lot of accidents there because everyone is trying to rush through [the stop sign],” he said. “If you put all that extra truck traffic there, it definitely increases the opportunity for more wrecks.”

Shell spokesman Michael Marr said Oct. 20 that it’s important to note the proposed truck route could change before construction starts.

“The proposed truck route outlined in the conditional use permit application is preliminary and could change, as it is subject to relevant approval processes,” he said. “At the same time, it is important to note that the proposed route was outlined to maximize the use of existing truck routes while minimizing impacts elsewhere.”