Capturing traffic flow key to healthier lifestyles, improving economy
The Central Susquehanna Valley Transportation Project opening in July of the northern section including a bridge about a 45-minute drive south of Williamsport is an opportunity to capture the expected heavier volumes of traffic for economic and recreational purposes in Lycoming County.
“We are in the middle of a transformation of our community to being at the center of the central Pennsylvania highway network,” said Scott R. Williams, Lycoming County Transportation Supervisor at the Lycoming County Department of Planning and Community Development.
Over the next 10 years, the city and region will see the completion of CSVT, which provides by-pass of Shamokin Dam, Northumberland and Lewisburg traffic congestion, the reconfiguration of the I-80/I-99 interchange in Bellefonte in Centre County, the completion of the US-220 corridor improvements west of Williamsport, and the eventual designation of US-15 from Williamsport north to the New York state line as part of I-99, Williams said.
“These improvements will help our area adapt to new economic realities that rely far more on highway freight and deliveries than on brick and mortar storefronts,” he said.
“They will also make Williamsport, as the gateway to the PA Wilds, a far more accessible location for travel and tourism for people and families to our north, south, east, and west.”
Moreover, as the birthplace of Little League and home of the Little League World Series as well as having a proximity to so many world class outdoor recreation amenities, Williams said he believed there is great potential for the area to see an increase in visitors as we become better connected and easier to travel to with the highway projects listed above.
Capturing that new flow
Central Susquehanna Valley Transportation Project northern section is expected to open in July, bringing much more truck and vehicular traffic to the city and region as the bridge provides direct access between U.S. Route 15 and Route 147 and Interstate 180 and I-80.
A key element in the planning process for transportation officials at Williamsport Area Transportation Study is to find ways to capture some of that increased volume of traffic, especially what is on Routes 15 and Interstate 180.
Other than motorists having to be more aware of added tractor-trailer and car traffic, a special impact study indicates transportation plans include expanding pedestrian/bicyclist pathways and making it easier and safer to access these spots along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.
The thought is with more expected traffic flow comes the opportunities to capture some of that traffic and have it stop along the way.
That means potentially more business, as pedestrians and bicyclists use local stores and restaurants and speciality shops.
In Williamsport, the goal is to extend planned pedestrian connections from the Susquehanna River Walk to locations in the city.
These corridors include access to the river walk by the Lycoming College Basin Street connector, a series of improvements at Via Bella beneath Interstate 180 and linking directly to the riverwalk and the riverwalk to planned softball fields at 2 Rose St., according to the SEDA-Council of Governments’ Central Susquehanna Valley Transportation impact study.
Recently, city officials agreed to have Delta Development Group Inc., a city economic development consulting firm, pursue grant funding for the Basin Street Phase II design, getting the project from the street and underpass of I-180 up to the river walk.
Jon Sander, city engineer, said, with guidance from the administration and council, that he will continue to work with Delta and that team on the connector route in the East Third Street Old City Gateway area.
A firm is in the stages of early design of the river walk extension to west to Reach Road and a spur that extends into Newberry.
In nearby Loyalsock Township, the state Department of Transportation (PennDOT) supports construction of a pedestrian bridge over Millers Run adjacent to East Third Street to complete the Millers Run Greenway project as identified in the 2017 Greater Williamsport Alliance Planning Area comprehensive plan.
Costs to complete the Millers Run Greenway project are estimated at $2.7 Million.
In Jersey Shore, Cody Hoover, borough manager, recently spoke of efforts to further connect the downtown to the Pine Creek Rails to Trails section.
Healthier lifestyles, bolstering business footing and population growth
It is hoped that investment into accessing pathways, such as the river walk, can promote healthier lives.
People walking, bicycling, using wheelchairs, skateboarding, scootering, and rollerblading are engaged in active transportation.
Use of the term “active transportation” highlights the growing recognition of the connection between public health outcomes and transportation planning.
The American Heart Association said that just 20 minutes each day of exercise can lower the risk of heart failure by 21% for men and 29% for women.
Nearly one quarter of all deaths in Pennsylvania are caused by heart disease and cases are expected to increase by 344% by 2030, the state Department of Health statistics said.
Almost 12% of all schoolchildren in Pennsylvania suffer from asthma, so bicycling two miles, rather than driving, avoids emitting 2 lbs of pollutants, which would take 1.5 months for one tree to sequester, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stated.
The connections for walkers and bicyclists can only help with the city and surrounding area economics.
Nearly one quarter more can be expected for those using the pathways looking for food, refreshment, goods and services than those who arrive by automobile.
Connections to pathways are expected to help the area which has an overall declining population.
By adding easier access to the riverwalk and other connection routes in the city and elsewhere individuals have direct access to the arts community, entertainment and special events.
Personnel with EConsult Solutions Inc., a Philadelphia-based consulting firm working through a DCED program on behalf of the city, noted that a key factor to residential growth are homes that are located within close distance to parks and open spaces and bicycle paths.
Adding these pathway expansions will take money and potential funding sources include the state Department of Transportation Multimodal Transportation Fund; state Department of Community and Economic Development/Commonwealth Financing Authority Multimodal Transportation Program and its Act 13 Greenways, Trails and Recreation Program; along with state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Community Conservation Partnerships Program.