It's like a suburban Skyline Drive.
That's the impression I got as I drove the Route 202 Parkway just minutes after it opened to traffic late Monday afternoon.
The real Skyline Drive is a 105-mile-long, two-lane road that runs the length of Shendandoah National Park in Virginia, featuring overlooks with sweeping vistas. The 35 mph road is free of commercial development, has overpasses and underpasses to avoid traffic lights, and is restricted to cars and passenger trucks.
The new Route 202 Parkway would be a fantastic road if it were located in the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania. It is protected from commercial development and private access, and is paralleled for its entire length by a paved 12-foot-wide bike-hike trail separated from the roadway by a split-rail fence.
However, it remains to be seen if the long-awaited bypass will be able to handle heavy suburban traffic, projected to reach 23,300 to 28,300 vehicles per day by 2020. Unlike the Skyline Drive, the parkway has traffic lights and is open to all trucks, including tractor-trailers.
It took me only 13 minutes during rush hour to travel the 8.4 miles from Welsh Road (Route 63) in Montgomery Township to the Route 611 interchange in Doylestown Township, keeping to the posted speed of 40 mph. That's at least 15 to 20 minutes faster than driving via old Route 202 or Upper State Road.
The best part of the parkway is the 1.7 miles north of Welsh Road, where it is four lanes. The highway passes over Route 309 on a bridge and completely avoids the notorious Five Points intersection.
After Horsham Road (Route 463), the parkway tapers to two lanes for the remaining 6.7 miles. It briefly widens to four travel lanes at County Line Road, apparently to allow more traffic to make it through the light.
In the two-lane section, cars start stacking up in lines, so you can only go as fast the the lead car. That wasn't much a problem on Monday, since most of the vehicles were passenger cars. But should a slow-moving dump truck be in the lead, you could be stuck behind it for miles. If there is anywhere to pass, I didn't see it.
Of the 10 traffic signals on the parkway, the only red light I encountered was at Limekiln Pike (Route 152). About a dozen cars backed up waiting for the light to turn green. I wondered, how long are the lines at intersections going to be as traffic increases over time?
There are left-turn and right-turn lanes at each intersection, which does help keep traffic moving.
After years of going up and down the steep hill on Upper State Road at Bristol Road, I was pleasantly surprised by the gentle incline where the parkway crosses Bristol Road. That should be a big plus during the winter.
The paved shoulders on each side are only 5 feet wide, with another 3 feet of a grass-covered base to allow for emergencies.
I was flabbergasted to find out the shoulders are designated as high-speed bike lanes. This means some cyclists will be riding within inches of traffic even though there is a protected bike path on the other side of the split-rail fence.
PennDOT should reconsider this before a tragedy occurs. There really is no need for cyclists to use the shoulders, which not only creates a potential danger to them but is a distraction for drivers.
When spring comes and trees and plants are in bloom, the parkway should look fairly attractive.
Of course, the $200 million highway wasn't built for sightseeing, but to move traffic. It's nowhere near as functional as the Route 611 bypass around Doylestown, but it's still much better than the old Route 202 through Chalfont.
I expect to use the parkway to go between Doylestown and Montgomeryville. After all, half a bypass is better than none.