Drivers peeved by frequent logjams on Orange Road caused by passing trains may find a glimmer of hope in a new county plan -- but they shouldn't get their hopes up, leaders say.
Delaware County and Orange Township officials are preparing to examine the feasibility of a railroad underpass as they move toward adding more lanes and traffic lights to East Orange Road.
Delaware County commissioners earlier this month approved up to $333,533 in compensation for CHA Consulting's continuing design work on improvements to Orange Road. The township earlier this year completed a $1.5 million project to widen the road near U.S. Route 23 and add turn lanes on the east and west sides of that intersection.
"What we're calling Phase II will take that improvement eastward to the railroad tracks -- widening the road to five lanes and installing three new traffic signals," said Rob Riley, chief deputy engineer for Delaware County.
Orange Township Administrator Lee Bodnar said current plans call for new traffic signals at Orange Road's intersections with North Central, Green Meadows and Highfield drives.
Bodnar said the planned changes, which will cost about $3.5 million, reflect the increased traffic in the area.
"Orange Road has become a major roadway," he said. "It has been due for attention for some time."
Riley said he expects engineering work to wrap up on Phase II of the project this year. He said the township could complete right-of-way acquisition in 2018 ahead of construction in 2019.
The township also eventually plans to install another traffic signal at Orange Road's intersection with Blue Holly Drive, just east of the railroad tracks. Riley said that portion of the roadway does not need to be widened because it was expanded when adjacent subdivisions were built.
While the consulting firm will study the possibility of a railroad overpass or underpass, both county and township officials cautioned the project might never happen.
"I think we're still early in the process," Riley said. "We need to look and see exactly what we can do there -- first and foremost, whether we could go over the railroad or under the railroad."
Bodnar said an underpass would have obvious safety and traffic benefits, but multiple factors prevent it from being a sure thing.
"It's far off in the future and it's a lot of money, if it's even feasible," he said.
Riley said "typical" overpass or underpass projects can cost between $10 million and $20 million. He said county and township officials also have not come to a determination on a potential cost-sharing arrangement for such a project.
"That's something we need to sit down and talk with Orange Township in more detail about," he said. "There's a number of different funding programs that could potentially address that project."
Bodnar said the first phase of the Orange Road widening project has drawn praise from residents since new traffic signals with left-turn lights were installed at Route 23 earlier this year.
"Since that time, I've heard nothing but good things," he said.