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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Collingswood PATCO Construction Project Nears an End

Philadelphia Inquirer

Two years of pokey trains, parking disruptions, and noisy nights around the Collingswood PATCO station are almost over.

Just when a columnist - puzzled by the seemingly inscrutable and endless goings-on - got curious enough to ask a couple of questions.

Turns out a $12 million project to replace 5,000 concrete pads under the tracks along a half-mile elevated stretch of the commuter line should be finished this month, PATCO general manager Bob Box says.

Although this sort of infrastructure project is a major undertaking, there's little glamour attached. The need isn't evident to the public, but the annoying nature of the work is all too clear. And there's little visible difference after the project is done.

Hardly the stuff of photo ops and ribbon-cuttings.

But the wear and tear caused by the trains and the weather made continued spot replacement of the pads on the 42-year-old viaduct impractical. So in October 2008, crews began jackhammering out, and pouring a replacement for, each of the pads, which sit atop the concrete deck and keep the tracks at proper grade.

The rails were then bolted into the new pads.

"It's very precise work," Box says.

Noisy, too: "Pennsylvania concrete contractors are working at night removing concrete. It's an inconvenience for people who live around the viaduct, and it impacts the [train] schedule."

PATCO, which carries about 36,600 passengers on a typical weekday, maintained service during the project.

Work was done during off-peak hours and involved closing sections of track and slowing trains to 15 m.p.h.

While the 219 trains that hurtle along the viaduct on weekdays (156 on Saturdays and 124 on Sundays) should run a bit smoother and quieter after the repair, passengers may not notice. But the job was essential.

"You could call it a midlife rehab," Box says.

Whatever you call it, the imminent completion is good news.

"We'll be happy to see it end," observes Collingswood Mayor Jim Maley, who says PATCO was generally cooperative in resolving noise and other complaints.

"In the evening you could hear them out on the tracks with heavy tools. It was definitely noticeable," says Michael Miles, a lawyer who lives in the LumberYard condominium complex adjacent to the viaduct and uses PATCO to get to work.

"We got through it!" says Betsy Cook, director of the Collingswood Farmers' Market, a Saturday morning attraction under the Speed Line between Irvin and Collings Avenues.

Two dozen vendors and thousands of patrons had no choice but to go along for the ride. And the market's musicians found themselves competing with not only the rattle and roar of trains but also the buzz of generators, the hiss of hoses, and the rat-a-tat of jackhammers.

"Some of the seniors complained," says Cook, whose house backs up to the viaduct. "There were bright lights and loud noises in the middle of the night. It was annoying."

"But I grew up in Collingswood," she adds. "The Speed Line is my neighborhood train. It really does make a contribution to the town. So whatever they had to do to fix it up is all right with me."

In the enveloping heat of the station platform Wednesday, riders Chad Jackson of Philadelphia and Rose Del Vecchio of Collingswood had no complaints about the project. Or PATCO, either.

"I've been taking the train for a while, and I hadn't even noticed, really," said Jackson, a 27-year-old mechanical engineer.

"I take this train to work every day," said Del Vecchio, an Atlantic City casino worker. "I love it."

Gotta love this, too: PATCO has no major projects planned for the Collingswood station area for the next several years.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Taxpayers Fund Building Amid the Slump

Philadelphia Inquirer

Much of the scant construction in Pennsylvania in the near future will be funded by taxpayers, including the projects crammed into the $1.6 billion "Public Improvement Projects, Transportation Assistance Projects and Redevelopment Assistance Capital Projects" signed by Gov. Rendell last week.

My colleague Suzette Parmley has written about the $10 million offered developer Robert Ambrosi for his conversion of the former Pincus Bros. clothing factory in Old City into a hotel, apartments, and stores.

Our Harrisburg staff detailed the state's plans to immortalize the political papers of lame-duck Sen. Arlen Specter and the late Pentagon contract specialist Rep. John Murtha.

There are a lot more like those packed into House Bill 2289.  
City projects include:

$20 million for the proposed American Revolution Center in Center City, plus $5 million for the Independence Visitor Center.

$15 million for "redevelopment" at the former Tasty Baking Co. at Fox and Roberts Streets bordering Nicetown and East Falls.

$10 million for projects, including the Specter library, at Philadelphia University in East Falls.

$10 million for a "research/education facility" at Drexel University.

$5 million for "mixed-use development" in South Philly's Grays Ferry section.

$5 million for Norris Square Civic Association's redevelopment project in North Philly.

$5 million for Aspira Inc., which has a long track record recruiting and supporting Latino students for college, to "develop" the former Cardinal Dougherty High School in Olney.

$3 million "for a new Community Legal Services building" to house antipoverty lawyers.

$750,000 for "campus expansion" at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine on City Avenue.

And in the suburbs:

$15 million for concrete construction at the Keystone Industrial Port Complex in Falls Township.

$10 million for "blight removal" and reconstruction at Chester's Union Square Neighborhood Revitalization District.

$7.5 million "for a mixed-use commercial/retail development" at Fornance, Wood, and Locust Streets in Norristown.

$5 million for "construction, renovation, and improvements in the Bucks County remodeling enterprise zone" in Bristol Township.

$5 million for "the retail development of a 35-acre site in Upper Darby."

$1.5 million for "an industrial facility project" at an unnamed site in Montgomery County.

Where'd we get the money for Pennsylvania concrete contractors and construction? We're borrowing it, from the regular sale of state bonds to private investors, Rendell spokesman Gary Tuma told me. Taxpayers will be financing these projects for decades, as they do with most of what governments build.

A lot of the projects require additional funds from private developers, Tuma said. Plus, the state Office of the Budget can impose conditions before releasing the money.

So maybe not all the projects will get built - this year, or ever. Some of the money will end up going to projects in next year's bill.

There is no all-wise Harrisburg agency picking economic winners. No "invisible hand" of the free market killing off the worst proposals.

This is a grassroots political process, if by grassroots you mean politically adept developers and private and community interests pushing legislators to let them get their hands into the public wallet.

Grabbing Pennsylvania public funds for your firm and your buddies, in the name of higher social goals, goes back to Ben Franklin and Robert Morris, as Charles Rappleye's new Morris biography reminds us.

From the public's perspective in these job-scarce times, the process is only tolerable if a lot of people are hired to build these projects, and run them, once they're done.

America's Warehouse
Besides tax-funded projects, almost the only action in Pennsylvania commercial real estate these days is out in the warehouse districts clustered along I-78 from Allentown down to Chambersburg, where the grandchildren of miners and steelworkers seek work pushing pallets and packing truck containers.

Pennsylvania's toll-free Interstate belt, along the inland truck route from New York to Washington, now ranks as America's Warehouse, the postindustrial home of places where stuff made somewhere else gets parked until East Coast consumers and businesses want it.

Check, for instance, the latest "industrial space" report from Philadelphia-based national landlord Liberty Property Trust.

So far this year, Liberty has leased three million square feet of warehouse space - that's as much as all the office space in Philadelphia's two Liberty Place towers, plus the Liberty-built Comcast Center - in the state's warehouse belt.

New tenants include companies such as Diversified Distribution Systems Inc. , of Minneapolis , which is moving from a smaller Baltimore facility into a nearly half-million-square-foot facility near Chambersburg in search of extra space and a "more advantageous labor market," as president Gary Langer told me.

We're now America's Warehouse? "You pretty much nailed it," says Liberty spokeswoman Jeanne A. Leonard.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Phoenixville Hospital to build its Third Cardio-Cath Lab

Philadelphia Business Journal

Phoenixville Hospital is getting ready to build a third cardiac-catheterization laboratory to keep pace with patient demand at its burgeoning heart program.

The Chester County hospital performed 1,192 diagnostic and therapeutic catheterization procedures — such as balloon angioplasties to clear blocked arteries — in 2007, the year its second cath lab opened.

This year the medical center expects that number to reach 2,059 procedures.

“This is an area where we’ve had significant growth,” said Stephen Tullman, president and CEO of the hospital. “We’re at capacity at the two cath labs now.”

The $3 million price tag for a new cath lab is a small portion of an ongoing expansion and renovation project expected to carry a final cost of between $90 million and $100 million when completed over the next two years.

Phoenixville Hospital — which is owned by Community Health Systems of Franklin, Tenn. — last year concluded the bulk of its expansion, spending $80 million on a new patient tower, a medical office building and much-needed parking garage. The tower project enabled the medical center to grow from 138 hospital beds to 160 beds, all now in private rooms. The hospital also increased its count of intensive-care units and telemetry beds, which feature continuous monitoring.

Expanding the hospital’s heart program is a strategy that began in early 2002 and continues today. The hospital performed its first cardiac intervention and first open-heart surgery in 2003. Over the years, other services were added, such as implantable defibrillators and peripheral intervention procedures, robotic-assisted surgery and, last year, electrophysiology.

Phoenixville Hospital has a clinical affiliation in cardiology (along with oncology, pathology and diagnostic imaging) with the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Tullman cited several factors for the growth of the hospital’s heart program.

He said the hospital has recruited one of the largest groups of acute-care cardiologists in the region. A 12th heart physician, Dr. Karthik K. Linganathan, who specializes in the care of chronic heart failure patients, is joining the team later this month.

Tullman also noted the communities served by the hospital have grown with the housing boom in western Montgomery County and northern Chester County over the past decade. In addition, he said, the region’s population has aged and older residents require more heart care. And they want to get that care close to home.

“Patients want to stay here,” said Dr. Hans M. Haupt, director of cardiothoracic surgery at Phoenixville and the surgeon who performed the first open-heart surgery at the hospital in 2003. “They don’t want to go into the city for surgery.”

Dr. Rajiv Dhawan, the hospital’s cardiac catheterization lab co-director, said that “very few” patients at Phoenixville opt to make the trip to one of the larger Philadelphia hospitals for heart care. “We have all the technology and all the services here,” Dhawan said. “That really counts.”

Haupt said Phoenixville, like other hospitals around the region and the country, is seeing a decline in open-heart surgical procedures as more therapeutic catheterization procedures — such as those involving angioplasties and stents to clear blocked arteries — are handled in cath labs. He said Phoenixville’s surgical volume has not dropped dramatically because of the large volume of elderly patients the hospital serves who are not strong candidates for the cath lab procedures.

Dr. Herbert Fisher, an interventional cardiologist at Phoenixville, said one of the unique features being planned for the third catheterization lab is a “hybrid” operating room that will allow surgeons and interventional cardiologists to work side-by-side.

The hybrid OR will combine the high-tech imaging capabilities of a cath lab with a large operating room to allow a patient to receive an angioplasty, then a bypass procedure, without having to be transferred to a different room.

Fisher said Phoenixville Hospital is also in the planning stages of enhancing preventative primary-care programs in heart care to provide more diagnostic screening of otherwise healthy patients to catch heart ailments earlier.

“We do all these fancy procedures on patients who represent just a small section of the population we serve,” Fisher said. “We want to do more to keep patients out of the [operating room]. We do colonoscopies and mammograms now, we should be doing more Indianapolis heart examinations on patients at midlife.”

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

N.J. Motorists run into Delays as $2B in Construction Projects Begin


More than $2 billion is being spent this year to repave highways, replace bridges, add new lanes and make other improvements on roads across the state. Though the roadways were clear of construction work for the past five days, due to the long Fourth of July holiday, starting at noon today the crews — and their orange cones will be back, and so will the delays.

To keep score on what's happening, here is list of the places near you and around New Jersey where road crews will be at work this summer and, in some cases, far beyond. Avoid them if you can. But if you can’t, approach with care.

• Route 1 North Brunswick bridge replacement: The Route 1 bridge will be replaced over the abandoned Sayreville Railway and local roads in the Milltown Road and the Ryders Lane interchanges north of the Route 1/130 interchange in North Brunswick Township. The construction will replace the five-span bridge with a single-span bridge. Construction will end in Summer 2011. The project will cost $24.1 million.

• Route 1&9 Saint. Paul’s Viaduct: Viaduct replacement in Hudson County over St. Paul’s Avenue will restore the deteriorated viaduct, while providing a more continuous traffic flow. The project will take an estimated four years to complete and cost $250 million. Traffic flow is continuously shifting in the area.

• Route 27 Metuchen bridge replacement: The Route 27 Bridge over Conrail in Metuchen Borough closed in April in order to safety repair the deteriorating bridge. NJDOT will provide detours for trucks and cars during the repairs. The project is scheduled for completion around October. The new bridge featuring single 12-foot lanes, 10-foot shoulders and 10-foot sidewalks in each direction. The project will cost $9 million.

• Route 36 Highlands Bridge over Shrewsbury River: NJDOT will replace bridge. The lanes will be expanded to 12-feet, with eight-feet shoulders and a median barrier. The improvements will help traffic flow and minimize seasonal impacts and diversion of traffic to local streets. The project will finish at the end of this year.

• Route 52 Causeway replacement Contract B: The bridge in Atlantic and Cape May counties will be replaced. Two fixed and two moveable bridges will be replaced by two bridges that will have two high fixed spans over Ship Channel and Beach Thorofare with new 12-foot expanded lanes, with two going in each direction. A new visitor’s center, multi-use sidewalks for bicyclists and pedestrians and several fishing piers will be provided as a part of the project by the NJDOT. The project is scheduled for completion in 2012 and cost $400 million.

• Route 70/73 Marlton Circle: The Marlton Circle will be eliminated in Burlington County. The project is scheduled for completion in winter 2011. The project will improve traffic flow and reduce accidents at the intersection. The project will cost $63 million.

• Route 295 rehabilitation projects: 25 miles of pavement will be repaired and resurfaced in Gloucester, Salem, Burlington and Camden counties. Project will switch to southbound lanes in 2010. The three projects will cost $170 million total and is expected to end in July of 2012. 17 bridge decks will be repaired and resurfaced, the acceleration and decelerations lanes will be upgraded and have new guide rails.

• Gordon’s Corner Road over Route 9: NJDOT installed a new precast concrete bridge structure connecting Gordon’s Corner Road and Tennent Road to Morganville and Wickatunk Road over Route 9 in Monmouth County, NJDOT officials said. The bridge will have upgraded clearance and guide rails. The project costs $6.3 million and is expected to be finished by late this summer.

• Route 35/36 in Eatontown: In Eatontown Borough and Monmouth County will undergo construction that will widen highway shoulder and relocate Wall Street. New left-turn lanes along Route 35 south will replace the existing loop ramp. The project is scheduled to end in summer 2012. The project will cost $12.4 million.

• Barrier Gate Replacement: The barrier gates, warning gates and traffic signal at the Route 71 bridge over the Shark River in Avon by the Sea and Route 88 Bridge over the inland Water way in Point Pleasant will be replaced. No construction will take place during the weekend.

• Route 9 Ocean Gate Drive: The intersection between Route 9 and Ocean Gate Drive/ Korman Road in Berkely Township will see improvements. The $345,000 state-funded project will improve safety by providing left-turn lanes from the cross streets on to Route 9. All construction will take place during the day, and the project is scheduled for completion by July 2010.

• Route 9 over Route 70 bridge deck replacement: The Route 9 bridge deck over Route 70 in Toms River will be addressed by concrete contractors to help improve conditions. NJDOT will also resurface the bridges approaching Route 9 in both directions. The project will cost $1.8 million and is scheduled for completion in November 2010.

• Route 195 Resurfacing: Route 195 will be resurfaced as a part of a $9.2 million fedearlly-funded project. Construction will mainly take place at night, with minimal daytime closures. No weekend lane closures are planned during the summer, and the project will be complete in late fall.

• Route 130 resurfacing: Roads will be resurfaced and Pennsylvania concrete contractors will repair roadways in Burlington and Mercer counties. NJDOT officials said they plan to mill and repave asphalt sections of the road and make repair to concrete surfaces on the northbound and southbound lanes between Bordentown and Hamilton.

• Route 30 Copper River Drainage: A new drainage system will be installed to prevent the high tide from reaching local ramps. Project will cost $7.8 million, and is scheduled to be completed in November.

• Route 73/Fox Meadow Road: The $18 million project will improve roads by realigning and widening lanes on Route 73. Project is anticipated to be complete in spring 2012.

• Route 78 Newark: A 2.2 mile stretch on both sides of I-78 in Newark will be resurfaced in a $12.7 million project. The project will be completed later this year.

• Route 1/9 northbound Express lanes in Newark: Delancey Street exit ramps will be permanently closed. Express traffic heading to Delancey Street must cross over to local lanes before exiting. The $2.1 million project is scheduled for completion in July.

• Route 280 East Orange, Livingston, Newark, Orange and West Orange: Resurfacing over 35,000 square-feet. The project is scheduled for completion in March of this year and will cost $21.6 million. Overnight single and double lane closures will occur on both sides of the roadway.

• Wittpenn Bridge on Route 7 in Jersey City and Kearny: Bridge will receive structural and mechanical repairs in an $8.3 million project. The bridge will remain open to traffic weekdays from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. but traffic shifts and lane closures may occur overnight and on weekends. The project is expected to be completed this winter.

• Route 280 Harrison and Kearny: More than two miles will be resurfaced in both directions from milepost 14.79 to 16.83. The $6.8 million project is expected to be completed in October of this year.

• Route 46 Fairfield: New acceleration lanes, deceleration lanes and ramps will be installed on the Hollywood Avenue exit off Route 46 in Fairfield. The $5.5 million project will begin the week of July 6 and is scheduled for completion in November 2011.

• Newark bridge replacement: The project will replace superstructures for Third, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Streets as well as Roseville Avenue over New Jersey Transit’s Morristown Rail Line. The construction will cost $13.5 million and is scheduled for completion in fall 2011.

• Pulaski Skyway in Jersey City and Newark: The Skyway will be repaired in a $27 million project to redirect rain runoff away from the steel under the deck in the sections with open curb. The project began in February and is estimated to be completed by October 2011.

• Route 46 Palisades Park: The Roff Avenue Bridge, which has been closed to traffic since March, will receive major renovations by fall of this year. Roff Avenue motorists are being detoured around the construction zone.

• Route 80 Bergen and Passaic County: Road resurfacing will take place on eight miles of the eastbound side of Route 80 from west of Madison Avenue to Polifly Road. Single and double lane closures will continue until the project is completed later this summer.

• Route 17 Rutherford, East Rutherford and Hasbrouck Heights: The $14.7 million project, which began in September 2008, will be completed by August and will improve traffic flow at Highland Cross in Rutherford, Union Avenue in East Rutherford and Franklin Avenue, Malcolm Road and Williams Avenue in Hasbrouck Heights.

• The Route 3 Bridge over the Passaic River: Bridge will be replaced with construction beginning later this summer. The project area extends from Main Avenue in Clifton to the Route 17 interchange in Lyndhurst and Rutherford. Route 3 will not close during any point during construction.

• The Route 46 bridge in Dover: The bridge over the NJ TRANSIT rail line and the Rockaway River will be closed on or around July 9 for replacement. The bridge will remain closed until $50 million project is completed at the end of 2011.

• Tuckahoe Road Bridge in Estell Manor: Bridge over the Cape May Branch rail-line, which has been closed since March 15, be replaced. The $4.9 million project is scheduled for completion in late-fall 2010.

• Route 49/55 Millville City: Ramps from Route 55 southbound to Route 49 will be elongated in a $10 million project expected to be completed by fall 2011.

NEPA Schools Preparing Students for Gas-Drilling Jobs


With the boom in Marcellus Shale natural gas development throughout the region, area educational institutions are growing to keep up with work force demands.

New training, certification and degree programs are being created at local schools to ensure local job skills are tailored to white- and blue-collared job needs related to the natural gas drilling industry.

Already, Lackawanna College and Johnson College in Scranton, Keystone College in LaPlume and the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport represent the growing trend of educational institutions offering course work and the hands-on training needed to become employable in one of Pennsylvania's growing industries.

And, college administrators agree the reason for the trend is simple: There's a demand for it by both the industry and potential workers who want the training and the jobs that come with it.

An industry-financed study conducted by Penn State's department of energy and mineral engineering, which offers an undergraduate degree in natural gas engineering, expected Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction efforts to create more than 200,000 jobs in the state and have an overall $18 billion economic impact by this year.

"Marcellus Shale is going to be big business," said Christopher Kucharski, Lackawanna College spokesman. "Problem is there is just nobody trained to handle the positions they want filled."

It appears a change is under way.

Larry Milliken, director of Lackawanna College's energy program and a natural gas instructor, just finished guiding the first class of 18 students through its first year of study to earn an associate degree in natural gas technology.

Based at the college's New Milford campus in the center of the action near gas fields in Susquehanna County, the program is preparing students for well tender jobs - a position that requires monitoring and maintaining natural gas wells during their lengthy production phase.

There is generally one well tender employed for every 20 to 40 natural gas wells, Mr. Milliken said, and the entry-level annual salary is $36,000. Sixteen students have paid internships with natural gas drilling companies this summer in western Pennsylvania, he added.

"The industry has been very supportive of wanting to get (our students) on board," he said. The college also is hiring three additional instructors this year to accommodate the increase in students who have enrolled in the natural gas technology degree program for the 2010-11 school year.

At Lackawanna College's new campus in Hawley, college administrators recently announced a new certificate course for fall centered on training accounting assistants, accounting clerks and administrative assistants specifically for the oil and gas industry.

Tracy Brundage, managing director of work force development at Pennsylvania College of Technology, said administrators decided to take the leap into offering natural gas drilling-related courses this year. The decision followed an in-house study that determined growing employment opportunities because of the prevalence of natural gas development under way in the region.

"The jobs are going to be around for a long time," Ms. Brundage said. "We're just getting started … to get our arms around what is happening … and how we need to respond."

Pennsylvania College of Technology has just begun offering training and certification classes in welding specialized for the industry's infrastructure and commercial driver's license classes, and has tweaked some of its academic majors - including diesel and electrical technology - to include natural gas drilling-related coursework.

So far, about 350 students have enrolled in the non-degree programs.

The college plans to expand its offerings, perhaps to include training for natural gas well operators and emergency response technicians, Ms. Brundage said.

Keystone College, known for its focus on the liberal arts, is also jumping on board.

Robert Cook, Ph.D., the college's environmental resource management program coordinator, said the college will be offering a handful of new courses early next year that include mapping underground natural resources tied specifically to natural gas.

The environmental resource management degree, a four-year Bachelor of Science, has had its "highest level of interest this year" in part because of the Marcellus Shale boom and an expectation that jobs will be available for graduates, Dr. Cook said. The degree, which includes environmental law courses, can also prepare a would-be environmental regulator, he added.

"It's clear energy is going to be an important subject for decades," said Dr. Cook, a professional geologist. "It's thrilling to see our discipline become an important skill set."

Keystone is also hiring a new instructor to teach undergraduate courses within a new natural gas and petroleum resource curriculum that is now under development.

Marie Allison, director of continuing education at Johnson College, said the college will be offering its first class in pipe welding next week tailored to techniques needed by the natural gas industry. The college also will offer a class for advanced welders to prepare for certification in a specific style of welding demanded by the industry.

The college's welding program had been defunct since 2001, because of declining enrollment, but the multitude of pipes and fittings that will be laid by the industry in the coming years yields greater demand for skilled welders, she said.

"They need welders," Ms. Allison said. "We want to give someone the fundamentals and give them the opportunity to find a job."

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

On South Philly Block, a Legal Fight Over Parking

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Road worrier: Bobby Lemons contends permit parking on McKean Street curbed business at his store. He led an unsuccessful counter-petition he says was sandbagged by his councilman.
It's about fairness, says the woman affectionately dubbed the mayor of McKean Street.

It's about politics, gripes an adversary down the block.

It's about democracy, contends the councilman who green-lighted it all.

It's about - what else? - parking in South Philadelphia.

In March of last year, the 900 block of McKean Street became one of more than 800 areas designated for permit parking by the Philadelphia Parking Authority, allowing neighborhood residents who buy a $35 annual sticker to park on the street at all hours and limiting other vehicles to two-hour parking between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. Previously, drivers faced no such restrictions.

On these facts, all parties seem to agree. On the rest? Conservatively, permit parking lies somewhere between bureaucratized travesty and model of efficiency - validated in a vote marked by fraud and intimidation or stringent adherence to due process.

"Individuals love it. They all renewed their permits," said resident Norma Russo, thumbing through a yellow envelope of petitions and PPA letters on her kitchen table, next to the biscotti jar.

"We had a perfect, beautiful block here," said Bobby Lemons, plopping a manila folder of the same files on his corner store counter, next to the cigarette dispenser. "I just want my life back."

It started in the summer of 2008 when Russo - "our mayor," says neighbor Diane Colanero - proposed a permit system. Among the reasons: Teachers from nearby Bok Technical High School, according to residents, often parked on the 900 block so administrators would not notice vehicles missing from the school lot if teachers ducked out early.

The ordinance - for which votes were taken by door-to-door petition of block tenants - passed, 26-7, crossing the PPA's 70 percent threshold for implementation. Lemons was the most vocal dissenter, saying the two-hour limits would hinder his business, with fewer passersby parking on the block of his convenience store. (Lemons lives next to his business, nearly a block's length from Russo.)

Immediately, he appealed the result to the PPA and Frank DiCicco, his councilman. Some signatures were forged, he alleged, while a handful of Chinese and Vietnamese residents were told their cars would be towed if they did not sign.

"I told them I don't like it," said Steven Zheng, whose address was on the original petition. "But she said, 'We need to sign. We need to sign.' "

Russo insisted she had taken a translator, who lives on the block, to any homes that required one. The forgery issue, she said, arose when a man's cousin posed as a tenant and signed his relative's name.

And the car-towing rumor? According to Russo, it began when a neighbor asked what would happen if she did not buy a sticker and continued to park on the block for more than two hours at a time.

"You'll continually get tickets," Russo recalled saying. "If you don't pay for tickets, it's like anything else. Your car will be towed."

Lemons led a counter-petition - 20 names in all - prompting DiCicco to call for a vote by secret ballot in January 2009.

"You sign it, for or against, and it's kept secret by me," DiCicco said.

In March 2009, each property received a notice from DiCicco's office calling the tally inconclusive and announcing the start of an eight-month trial period.

Nearly twice that time has passed, and the sign still stands. No one has heard from the city or PPA since.

"It may have been a tie," DiCicco said.

Lemons contends the permit system gained approval as a political favor. On a speakerphone call with a PPA official last year - broadcast for customers to hear (and corroborate) - Lemons says he was told DiCicco's office had directed the PPA to push for permits. "They love it," Lemons theorized. "It's revenue for the city."

DiCicco and the PPA deny taking the initiative in this - or any - permit case, though the city is required to approve the installation of new signs once the PPA determines that a block has secured 70 percent approval.

"Residents request it," PPA spokeswoman Linda Miller said. "They call to say they're having problems with people parking on their block."

McKean Street's example, atypical as it may be, underscores a slew of quirks in permit procedure. Petitions require only one resident of a household to sign, regardless of how many drivers live there. Ten homes are listed on both the August 2008 petition for permits and a March 2009 list of those opposed. While some initial supporters changed their minds, the dueling petitions also reveal different signatures attached to the same address - daughter for, father against; yea from one spouse, nay from the other.

Michael DeMatteo, owner of Mike's Car Care on the east end of the street, says his business productivity has been hindered by the need to "play car jockey" with customers' vehicles every two hours. He also carps that he cannot buy a permit because his car is registered to his New Jersey home.

"I think that's unfair," DiCicco said. "But I don't make the state laws."

The boundless trial period is a final point of contention from Lemons' corner. Russo, for her part, says the system has existed for long enough that no official follow-up validation is required - like a common-law marriage.

She also says permits appear to alleviate parking congestion. Some neighboring blocks have taken notice of the half-empty sidewalks and followed suit.

"Before March, you would never see a spot," said Jean Hill, whose 1200 block of Dickinson Street approved permits three months back. "The $35 is not that big of a deal."

For Lemons, though, it's about the principle.

"I'll rip $35 up in the street. Our rights were violated," he said, face clenching. "Is this America?"