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There’s little doubt that the amount of freight moving through the Lebanon County area has grown tremendously over the past few years.
That’s a reason county officials have entered an agreement with nine other counties to study the movement of freight throughout the region and the impact it has on local infrastructure.
Members of the county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization recently voted unanimously to participate in the regional study, according to Jon Fitzkee, senior transportation planner for the Lebanon County Planning Department.
Fitzkee said the Eastern Pennsylvania Freight Alliance (EPFA) proposes to develop a multi-regional freight plan for the 10-county area composed of Berks, Carbon, Lebanon, Lackawanna, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe, Northampton, Pike and Schuylkill counties, covering nearly 400 municipalities within the region.
The $350,000 study, which is expected to start with the submission of proposals from engineering firms early next year with an expected report release date in 2023, will cost Lebanon County just over $4,700.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is paying 80 percent of the cost, or $280,000, with the 10 counties paying the other 20 percent, or $70,000. The rate each county pays is based on its geographic size and population.
“This will help us understand the issues because most of us don’t have the resources to work on these issues individually,” said Fitzkee. “It will also tell us what are the steps we should take within our given region based on what those trends are telling us. We will get a better understanding of the steps we need to take regarding land use and other steps necessary to address the trends.”
The freight study is also designed to achieve several goals across various modes of transportation, according to Fitzkee.
“The alliance anticipates developing a plan that coordinates for multi-modal freight travel and discusses the multi-modal travel to work for employees,” he said. “The coordination of multi-modal freight travel will create a robust mega-regional transportation network that is safe, convenient, and efficiently accommodates the growing industrial sector without jeopardizing system mobility, reliability, or security.”
He added that the multi-modal aspect of freight travel includes truck, air, rail and current and future delivery technologies and the multi-modal aspect of travel to work including via bikes, pedestrian, ride-sharing and transit options for commuting employees.
Fitzkee told LebTown that several factors have led to increased freight traveling through Lebanon County and the recent growth of warehouses in the area.
“There is certainly the growth of freight since the expansion of the Panama Canal that comes downstream to us via increased freight traffic that’s moving through New York City ports,” Fitzkee said. “There is also growth in the I-78/81 corridor and consumer shopping habits have also changed with more people shopping online, which has helped drive the construction of more warehouses. Also, the county is in a prime location with access to major population centers.”
Fitzkee said the project study area includes local key access points and corridors along major interstates including 76, 78 and 81 in Lebanon County, state roads including routes 22, 322, 422 and 501, and many other local and lower-order roads and bridges. Other transportation modes to be studied are the rails that pass through Lebanon County and air cargo systems located through the 10-county region.
Fitzkee said a key takeaway for all of the counties will be the impact freight has on the local infrastructure within their local municipalities.
“The alliance must understand the pressures freight adds to our communities, landscape, and road network to act now and properly prepare for the future,” he said. “The Eastern Pennsylvania Freight Alliance Freight Plan will provide key answers to many questions, provide the Eastern Pennsylvania Freight Alliance with a deeper understanding of the freight landscape, and identify deficiencies within the freight network.”
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