Route 100 loses its way through West Chester

Posted: October 09, 2003

The signs of change are everywhere.

Or, in the case of state route formerly known as 100, the signs are just gone.

About 11 or 12 miles of the route that used to run through West Chester and the scenic Brandywine Valley of Chester and Delaware Counties have disappeared. The roads the route followed are still there, but the signs calling them Route 100 have vanished.

It's not the work of vandals.

Pennsylvania Route 100, at least a good portion of it, has been officially "de-designated" by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

The reason for this bureaucratic adjustment?

To reduce truck traffic.

The de-designated portion of Route 100 was a collection of narrow country roads and congested borough streets. By marking them as a route on official maps, truck drivers looking for routes through Chester County were encouraged to use them as, well, a route through Chester County.

No more.

But as with many bureaucratic adjustments, this one had other consequences.

Some business owners caught off guard by the change, call it nuts, especially those who relied on the Route 100 signs for directions.

"Our customers never gave up," said Heidi Ickes, sales manager for Brandywine Picnic Park in Pocopson, which is at the intersection of Route 52 and the former Route 100. "But it was a long, grueling, scenic tour around Chester County for them to get here."

With no fanfare and no public announcement, PennDot crews took the Route 100 signs down between Christmas and Easter, said Dennis Tiley, manager of traffic operations for the five-county area, effectively jettisoning its existence.

And it's about time, said Vincent Vitollo, the first chairman of a Traffic Committee appointed by West Chester Borough Council around 1990.

"You can put together a lunar program in less time," he said. "It took 13 years to get this done. That is outrageous."

Vitollo said the Traffic Committee was formed to reduce the number of big trucks rumbling through West Chester at all hours of the day and night.

"They shake the house," said Vitollo, who lives on Price Street, a tree-lined residential avenue that used to be part of the route. "They hit a manhole . . . and the wine glasses in your cabinet would rattle."

The committee initially wanted to rid the town of all the major roads that converge upon it - Route 52, Business Route 322, and Route 100, said Shannon Royer, a former borough councilman.

"A lot of traffic that has no intention of stopping in the borough ends up driving through and causing massive traffic problems," he said. He said the committee wanted to shift traffic out of town to roads that could handle it.

West Chester Borough Council President Paul Fitzpatrick said he would find truckers parked on the side of the road south of the borough, wondering how they ended up on the narrow, winding, two-lane road.

"One time a truck was trying to turn onto High Street from Price Street, and the bottom of the truck got stuck on the crown of High Street," he said. "It was a big van and the wheels were off the ground."

Before PennDot would take action, the idea had to be approved by all of the municipalities through which the route passed as well as the Chester County Planning Commission.

With the backing of the West Chester Regional Planning Commission, the seven Chester County municipalities outside of West Chester passed resolutions supporting the measure in 1990 and 1991.

The county Planning Commission approved the plan in 1999, and last year PennDot concurred, deciding to end Route 100 south at its intersection with Route 202 South in West Goshen Township, Tiley said.

Tiley said the change would show up on the next edition of the official state tourist map due out next year.

Area newspapers wrote about the proposal as it wended its way through the bureaucracy, but the news didn't reach all quarters in a timely fashion.

Jesse Walters, executive director of the Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau, said he first heard about the proposal two years ago.

"There were a lot of businesses who are members of the bureau who were concerned about it," he said. "On their behalf we wrote to elected officials and PennDot but it seemed to be a fait accompli."

In Chadds Ford Township, home of Wyeth country, officials learned of the de-designation when the Route 100 signs vanished.

"It caused some minor turmoil," said Bruce, Prabel, township road master. "Everybody knows the intersection of Route 100 and U.S. Route 1, and then it disappears."

The township has recently put up little green-and-white street signs saying "Old Route 100 North" and "Old Route 100 South" to help bewildered motorists, he said.

But nowhere was the impact felt as hard as it was at the Brandywine Picnic Park where 100,000 people come to play every season. Ickes said they had to hire extra staff just to answer the phone calls on weekends from people who were lost.

"When people would call, we would ask if they had our brochure," she said. "If they said yes, we would tell them to throw out the map."

And after hiring a lawyer to press its case, the park got permission from PennDot to put out blue-and-white directional signs at key intersections, but only for this season.

"It was stressful," Ickes said. "People were angry at us like it was our fault. We never knew anything about it."

Contact Inquirer Staff Writer Nancy Petersen at 610-701-7602 or petersen@phillynews.com.

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