Since 1994, when traffic last was studied east of Market Street in Williamsport, a lot has changed.
Congestion is the rule of the day, especially at peak hours in the morning and early afternoon with traffic from off-campus college housing, natural gas-related industries and other upstart businesses .
Now, with a 160-foot tall office building eyed in three or four years on Market Street, and a growing trend of hotels and restaurants either under development or planned, the maze of one-way streets and alleys between Via Bella and downtown may require an updated study, according to members of the city Economic Revitalization Committee and city officials who met Monday.
They discussed possible changes to East Third and Fourth streets and Basin Street traffic flow and how motorists can better access the area from Interstate 180 and Washington Boulevard.
"We last did a traffic
study of that area in 1994," said William E. Nichols Jr., director of city finance, following the meeting. "Certainly, any traffic study would be warranted because we haven't done an updated study since then, but we must first define its scope."
Any changes would require an amendment to the city traffic map, according to Norman Lubin, city solicitor.
The committee, chaired by Councilman Randall J. Allison, tossed ideas around, such as conducting a neighborhood walk-through and better defining the goals of a traffic or access study.
City Councilwoman Liz Miele said that reviewing traffic patterns alone may be too narrow of a vision and suggested adding elements that would improve neighborhood livability, such as accommodating pedestrians, as aspects of the study that could be included.
The meeting was convened after a request from Council President Bill Hall.
"We expanded the Central Business District to include these streets to look at economic development purposes," Hall said. "The last time there was a traffic study was 1994, or 19 years ago. At that time, the city was looking at altering the pattern of Little League Boulevard and that was before the Market Street Bridge was removed and replaced and the Marcellus Shale industry came into existence in Lycoming County."
Hall alluded to projects such as an office tower on Market Street and plans to demolish the old Susquehanna Trailways building at Third and Mulberry streets for commercial purposes as reasons to start to explore the concepts now, not later.
"Now, it's time to look at the circulation of traffic and see if improvement can be made," Hall said.
To get the ball rolling, Hall said, $25,000 has been set aside in a council budget legislative contingency fund, which allows council to use it "for anything it wants. If it's not used the money drops to the bottom of the line items as surplus."
"There is money in the budget to develop a scope of work for engineering," said John Grado, city engineer and city director of community and economic development.
Real estate developer John Albarano II, whose father started the Basin Street Shopping Plaza in 1982, said he is for improving access to one of the three key gateway entrances to the city from off Interstate 180 but can't understand why no sidewalk was in the design between Basin Street to places such as Kohl's or Wegmans.
"The area east of Market Street has largely been ignored, other than some state Department of Transportation work on Via Bella," he said. "You can't walk from the plaza on Basin Street to Wegmans safely.
"It's sad because it's the only part of downtown with room for expansion, with ground on Third Street, and nobody has been paying attention to it," Albarano said. "The city never seems to include east of Market and it's part of the Central Business District."
Albarano said one of the worst designs is the Carl E. Stotz Little League Memorial Bridge removing its connection to Mulberry Street as the older Market Street bridge provided.
"It's not convenient to get on Via Bella," he said. "One must go through two or three alleys before you can get to Via Bella."
He also suggested a parking study be done for those living and shopping east of Market Street. Mark Murawski, county transportation planner, said it was a good first step to look at traffic flows to determine whether traffic is moving efficiently. "We may look at the traffic signal system and may need to reprogram signals," he said.
Murawski, however, cautioned the city about the high cost of performing any physical changes recommended in such a study.
He cited the fiscal damage done to the county by the passage of the state budget. "The bottom line is if the city is looking for any kind of federal/state money - forget it. If the city wants a study to be done and is paying for it with self-sustaining funds - more power to them."
Nichols agreed that costs were prohibitive when he joined others in planning gateway improvements during the construction of the Market Street Bridge project.
"We looked to improve the intersection of Third and Market streets," Nichols said. The cost for improving a block between Market and Mulberry was then set at $200,000. It's expensive to make changes, such as altering one-way to two-way."
Murawski and Nichols both said for it to work, the city will have to analyze traffic flow and the impact on other parts of the city.
"The whole is dependent on the parts," Murawski said. "You don't want to improve one road section at the expense of another."
"Any study would have to be comprehensive in nature," Nichols said.