Are the two modified Exit 55 signs on busy Interstate 79 in Collier signs of the times -- or signs of trouble?
The response to that question seems to depend upon whom you ask.
Last week, the state Department of Transportation changed the I-79 interchange signs at Exit 55 from Heidelberg-Kirwan Heights to Heidelberg-Collier. The Kirwan Heights name had been on the Exit 55 signs since the interchange opened in 1968.
Collier officials say the signs are a way to increase the 13-square-mile township's identity.
However, some residents of the township's Kirwan Heights neighborhood contend covering the name on I-79 signs with the Collier signs erase them from the map.
"We're being neglected and abused," said Mark Lewis, a longtime Kirwan Heights resident, township advocate/volunteer and president of the 86-year-old Kirwan Heights Volunteer Fire Department. "We're being slighted. We're not getting our fair share,"
Mr. Lewis has drafted a written protest to Collier, consulted an attorney and contacted numerous elected state officials for help in returning Kirwan Heights' name to the signs. However, though some other Kirwan Heights residents share his view, the new Collier signs remain in place.
"There's no reason to change them. The request [to change the sign] came from the commissioners," PennDOT spokesman Jim Struzzi said Tuesday.
Collier manager Sal Sirabella reinforced that position, referring to Collier's comprehensive plan that states in part that a planning goal is to preserve quality of life, keep the township's distinctive neighborhoods, as well as retain the existing rural/small-town atmosphere and recreational and natural resources.
"There was never an intent to remove Kirwan Heights," he said.
In fact, he said the commissioners for years have designated Kirwan Heights as the entranceway to Collier and pointed out that the I-79 island ramp at Route 50 has boasted one of only two existing "Collier Township Home of National Flag Day 1949" signs. The other is on the front lawn of the municipal building on Hilltop Road.
An old, faded sign on Vanadium Road that read "Welcome to Kirwan Heights" was inadvertently removed last year, but will be replaced with a new one, he added.
Approved and published township minutes from Dec. 14, 2011, indicate that Mr. Sirabella met with PennDOT's district engineer to discuss the commissioners' desire to make a name change on the signs to increase the sprawling township's visibility.
On Jan. 25, Mr. Sirabella informed elected officials that the state would change the signs at Exit 55 to read "Heidelberg/Collier" from the former "Heidelberg/Kirwan Heights."
PennDOT workers riveted overlay strips to cover "Kirwan Heights" during the night of July 20-21.
But the overhead sign on the interstate's Exit 55 ramp still reads "Heidelberg/Kirwan Heights."
Collier Commissioner Kay Downey-Clarke said there are more residents who support the name change than oppose it.
"For every one person against [the change], there are 99 for it," she said earlier this week, adding, "This is a non-issue that has been blown out of proportion. A lot of people are glad because now they know where Collier is."
She added that officials value all of Collier's numerous neighborhoods, noting that Kirwan Heights has no defined borders and is not an incorporated town.
About 1,000 of Collier's 7,000 residents live there.
But Mr. Lewis fears the recent name change action could set a precedent for the other remaining villages that make up the township.
These places include in part Beechmont, Cubbage Hill, Ewingsville, Federal, Fort Pitt, Presto, Rennerdale and Walkers Mill.
He noted that Kirwan Heights, which he said pumps $3 million annually into Collier's economy, has a lengthy and interesting history, as well as a population of hardworking people, many of whom are current or former workers at the area's three shopping centers and numerous offices, restaurants, industries and businesses.
Though Collier was formed in 1875, only about half of the township is developed. At a public meeting on the comprehensive plan's 10-year update in May, residents strongly indicated their support for green space preservation, tree-lined streets and parking lots. They opposed large-scale commercialization.
Carole Gilbert Brown, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.