The resources are now in place for a development project that will see South 22nd Street between Chestnut and Cumberland streets transformed, and the Lebanon Valley Rail Trail take a major step towards its ultimate goal of creating a county-long pathway.
The news came Wednesday, April 20, when the commonwealth announced a slate of multimodal projects funded largely by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, including a $1.3 million grant sought by the Lebanon County Planning Department. The $1.3 million grant rounds out the budget for a project that’s been in the works for some time, arguably decades.
The project will see South 22nd Street realigned to run continuously with a true cross intersection at Chestnut Street, rather than the jughandle turn currently in place.
South 22nd Street will keep the existing alignment from Cumberland Street to just past the Lebanon Valley Motorcycle Club, at which point it will veer right to cross the Quittapahilla Creek in a straight approach to the existing alignment of South 22nd Street. The new bridge over the Quittie will be wider than the existing one, with a safer road profile.
The project addresses two major transportation challenges. First, the South 22nd Street bridge over the Quittapahilla Creek.
North Cornwall Township manager Tom Long said that the bridge has been on his and the township’s radar for 25 years. A crossing vulnerable to flooding, the bridge is also narrow and hilly, making it challenging to plow effectively and creating ongoing safety issues for pedestrians and motorists alike.
“This is the last area that tends to get blocked up and flood more readily,” said Long.
With increased residential development in the area, and the road span also being part of a Lebanon Transit route, the issues were likely to grow in years to come.
Although improvements were already planned by PennDOT as the current maintainers of the 1936-era, 59-foot-long concrete slab bridge, the state had the bridge slated to be replaced in 2030 or later. Long and other local officials saw a chance to move the project along faster, and solve another major county transportation puzzle in the process.
The second challenge addressed by the project is getting the Lebanon Valley Rail Trail across Cumberland Street in a way safe for trail users and compatible with existing traffic patterns. The rail trail currently terminates at Cumberland Street, just past the planned location of the John E. Wengert Memorial Park.
The original plan had been to take the rail trail over Cumberland Street at that point (near the former Keystone Weaving Mills complex) and install traffic calming devices to help make the crossing safer, but Norfolk Southern, owners of the defunct but technically “active” segment of rail across the street, proved to be uninterested in ceding the track for trail use.
“They pretty much road-blocked us,” Lebanon Valley Rail Trail president John Wengert said in a previous interview with LebTown. “That’s how it started. But in retrospect, this is going to be better than if we had used the railroad bed. It’s a better entrance to the mall property. It’ll be cleaner.”
“We changed gears and looked at options,” said Jon Fitzkee, senior transportation planner for the Lebanon County Planning Department. “Well, how do we get to 422? 22nd Street was a logical choice.”
The rail trail will run alongside Chestnut Street to South 22nd Street, where it will take a right and run users to the doorstep of the Lebanon Valley Mall.
Phase 6A of the trail will run through Wengert Memorial Park and right up to the border of the City of Lebanon and North Cornwall Township, while Phase 6B will run along the northside of Chestnut Street. Both projects are moving through the pipeline now to secure funding before work begins.
A future phase, 6D, will loop the trail around the backside of the mall and under the railroad tracks to connect with Phase 7, which runs along the southern edge of the Union Canal Tunnel Park.
Future phases will connect the existing links in northern Lebanon County, including the relocated historic Inwood Bridge which sits on Phase 9, with the Swatara State Park Trail (which, in turn, provides access to the Stony Creek Trail through a short stretch on Old Forge Road).
Likely to serve as a catalyst for those other efforts, the now-funded Phase 6C of the project will connect a planned Chestnut Street segment of the rail trail with Gloninger Woods Park and bring the trail to the entrance of the Lebanon Valley Mall. The new bridge will feature mechanisms to protect bikers and pedestrians.
Although it could be some time before the project goes out to bid, getting the funds in place sets the stage for the next major round of movement on the project.
“We got over one of the biggest parts which is being able to secure the necessary money,” said Fitzkee.
In addition to the $1.3 million grant, the project also relies on approximately $1.1 million of “turn back” funding from PennDOT as part of North Cornwall Township taking over the span of South 22nd Street currently maintained by the state.
“It doesn’t happen very often that the township’s willing to accept a PennDOT road,” said Long.
However, the turn back also prevents the road from becoming an orphan section for the state; maintenance-wise and moving forward, it will be better to have it under local control, said Fitzkee. The turn back funding will allow the township to do improvements such as those PennDOT had in its long-term plan. Coordination with PennDOT was facilitated by state Rep. Frank Ryan.
The budget also includes $800,000 of previously committed Marcellus Shale funding for the trail and an additional $200,000 contributed by the county through an “in lieu of taxes” agreement.
In total, the project is estimated to cost about $3.6 million. Fitzkee said that the project was now “committed,” and while there could be changes, there are other sources of state and federal funding to tap if there are cost increases, especially given the multi-modal nature of the project and how it closes a critical gap in local transportation infrastructure.
Funding breakdown for LVRT Phase 6C
|N. Cornwall Township||$200,000****|
|PennDOT (Bipartisan Infrastructure Law)||$1,300,000|
|Overall Project Cost||$3,643,135|
* PennDOT commitment as part of turning back portion of South 22nd Street to North Cornwall Township
** Lebanon County 911 Center in lieu of taxes for off-site improvements as part of the land swap with the Lebanon Valley Motorcycle Club
*** LVRT, Inc. private funds
**** North Cornwall Township Infrastructure Bank Funds
***** Lebanon County Marcellus Shale Legacy Bridge Funds
Prior to the project going out for bid on PennDOT’s Engineering and Construction Management System, a significant amount of coordination has to occur given the size and complexity of the project. The City of Lebanon Authority will donate a parcel to North Cornwall Township, and the Lebanon Valley Motorcycle Club will swap land to enable the new right of way. The motorcycle club will also get an improved parking lot and entrance along Walnut Alley in lieu of working with the township of the project.
Work will be coordinated between North Cornwall Township and Steckbeck Engineering and Surveying Inc., the township’s engineers, along with Lebanon County Planning, PennDOT, the Lebanon Valley Rail Trail and Wilson Consulting Group, engineering consultants for the trail.
The project team will also need to coordinate with the Lebanon County Stormwater Consortium, which has a major project in the works to restore the floodplain of the Quittie just upstream from where the new bridge will be located.
These steps could take much of 2022 to complete, and while a late 2023 completion date isn’t totally out of the cards, 2024 is more realistic.
Once work begins, the township will keep the existing South 22nd Street bridge open as long as possible. “We can start up at the new intersection and do a lot of that construction before we have to close 22nd to make that final connection,” said Long.
While there’s still much work to be done, one of the biggest hurdles has already been completed. “We got over one of the biggest parts which is being able to secure the necessary money,” Fitzkee said.
Fitzkee expects the project will serve as a demonstration of how even complex projects with many stakeholders can be tackled with the right resources and plan.
“Tom and the (North Cornwall) Board of Supervisors have been huge help for putting this together,” said Fitzkee.
“We have really good momentum.”
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Full Disclosure: Steckbeck Engineering & Surveying, Inc., is an advertiser on LebTown. LebTown does not make editorial decisions based on advertising relationships and advertisers do not receive special editorial treatment. Learn more about advertising with LebTown here.