Lebanon County Commissioners on Thursday approved by a 2-1 vote its portion of Phase 6C funding in the amount of $800,000 for the Lebanon Valley Rail Trail (LVRT) expansion project.
The commissioners approved during their bi-weekly meeting to use $800,000 from the county’s more than $2 million Marcellus Shale Legacy Bridge funds to demonstrate to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation their commitment.
The county’s commitment was sought to gain additional support from the commonwealth for the $3.64 million cost projected for this part of the four-phase initiative. The state has already provided $1.1 million towards the project, according to a funding breakdown of the LVRT Phase 6C project.
Commissioners William Ames, who made the motion, and Chairman Robert Phillips both voted to approve to distribute the funding at that level, while Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz voted no.
Litz, who refused to second the motion to open discussion, wanted Ames to amend the motion and agree to a lower amount in hopes of preserving funding for other potential county transportation projects, which are permissible expenses as part of the Act 13 of 2012 law. Act 13 of 2012 was established to pay counties for impact fees associated with the establishment of unconventional gas wells during the Marcellus Shale gas boom.
Although it was noted by county clerk/county administrator Jamie Wolgemuth that no other transportation projects are pending, Litz voiced her concern that unforeseen circumstances may arise necessitating usage of those Act 13 funds. Litz said she wanted to designate $200,000 for the Phase 6C project.
“I was probably one of the last people to cross the Inwood Bridge before it was condemned,” said Litz. “When they told me they were closing it, I was a little taken back. And then I saw the photos that Wilson (Consulting Group) provided and how rotted the underneath side was, it was unexpected, totally unexpected.”
Litz said the county should conserve funding for other highway projects in case it encounters other unexpected issues similar to the Inwood Bridge. The $800,000 provided by the county will be used to replace a bridge in the South 22nd and Chestnut streets corridor.
“I really want to support this project and if we do a reasonable amount and don’t throw as much as being proposed at the situation I think we can still accomplish it and still have money to address local bridges and other areas,” said Litz.
Ames noted that the presentation that was given by LVRT board member Tom Kotay stressed that the project is about ensuring public safety.
“It’s been clearly pointed out that this is not just a rail trail project, it’s not just a bridge project, it’s a public safety project,” said Ames, “and if we can, here at the county, commit $800,000, which is a portion of the funds we have on hand as part of the Marcellus Shale Transportation Fund — and we’ll continue to receive funds as part of that Marcellus Shale fund — and so I think it is a safe commitment.”
Kotay said during his presentation that the $3.6 million Phase 6C project accomplishes several goals, with public safety being at the forefront in addition to the trail expansion.
“6C will take the rail trail on the west side of South 22nd Street from Chestnut north to 422. It’s the most complex trial we’ve done as a rail trail group and in cooperation with you folks,” said Kotay. “It’s not just a rail trail project, it’s a road relocation, it’s a bridge replacement, it’s safety improvements at two intersections, it’s combining a new bridge with stormwater management work going on in the area — a very complex project that comes in at a cost of $3.6 million.”
Kotay noted that PennDOT has committed $1.1 million as part of a future turnback of South 22nd Street (SR 3025) to North Cornwall Township, $200,000 from North Cornwall Township that was used for right of way acquisitions and easements, $25,000 from LVRT private funds and a previous commitment of $200,000 from the county in lieu of fees in exchange for off-site improvements.
“So we’re building a nice local match, and North Cornwall Township, besides clearing the right of way, is putting in an additional $200,000, which happened at their meeting on Tuesday night,” said Kotay. “This program with PennDOT does not require a local match for construction but the applicant has to pay for all costs leading up to construction.”
The request for an additional financial commitment from the county was being made in hopes of getting the state to provide more funding for construction, according to Kotay, which will be used, in part, to turn two intersections at Chestnut and 22nd streets into one intersection. Kotay added that 5 percent of all accidents in North Cornwall Township occur at that intersection.
The commissioners also approved, as part of the LVRT request, to allow Jon Fitzkee, assistant director/senior transportation planner for the Lebanon County Planning Department, and Kotay as a LVRT designee to submit the application to PennDOT on behalf of the county.
In other county business, the commissioners:
- Approved a five-year agreement with Wilson Consulting Group to provide bridge inspection services at a cost of $1.12 million over the life of the contract. The contract, which runs from April 2022 through the end of calendar year 2026, also covers bridge inspections for all locally maintained bridges throughout the county at no cost to local municipalities.
- Accepted the NG911 Letter of Engagement, which moves the county from the current telephone system for emergency calls to a statewide-operated system that’s funded entirely by the commonwealth.
- Signed the Emergency Food Assistance Program agreement so that Lebanon County Christian Ministries can provide food assistance to families in need.
- Recognized October as National Disability Awareness Month.
- Heard a presentation from Deborah Wright, the recently crowned Ms. United World 2022, who hails from Lebanon County.
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