The 1-mile stretch of Route 422 that spans Cleona Borough has come under a microscope as borough officials and residents work with Lebanon County planning officials to decide the best options to improve the busy east-west corridor.

“We partnered with the borough to do this special planning study,” Jon Fitzkee, assistant director and senior transportation planner for the Lebanon County Planning Department, told LebTown.

“Our main purpose is trying to assist municipalities on the planning side,” he said. “We try to help them decide what the priorities are and help to establish a vision and determine the costs.”

A couple of fatal accidents along the 422 corridor sparked initial conversations with borough engineer Steve Shirk, Fitzkee said. After a few discussions with Borough Council, he said, the county requested special planning funds – to the tune of about $100,000 – from the state Department of Transportation “to figure out a game plan … and determine what the concerns are across that area.”

The segment in question runs from Mill Street in the west to Christian Street in the east, Fitzkee said. “Basically just within the borough limits.”

The cost of proposed improvements totals just over $1.8 million.

Seeking public input

With Cleona’s blessing, the Lebanon County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) held public meetings in January and May to get input from local residents on the corridor.

“Display boards will be available for residents to provide targeted feedback and recommendations on different areas of concern, with the goal of improving safety and multi-modal travel along the corridor,” a previous article on the meetings explained. Officials gathered insights and suggestions from the public to “help us understand existing issues along the corridor and develop recommendations for future improvement projects.”

Borough manager Melody Vanderveer was not available to comment on the planning process.

Fitzkee said county and borough officials looked at the traffic data to come up with suggestions to improve the corridor. However, he said, it was also important to find out what the residents’ concerns and suggestions were.

“Did they want better pedestrian crossings? Traffic calming? Bicycle paths?” he asked. “Cleona is also looking at community development that dovetails into that.”

Coming to a public meeting “isn’t always very enticing, Fitzkee said, but they had a good turnout.

“It turned out to be a good discussion,” he added. “And it led to a development of suggested improvements. … There were a lot of suggestions. People validated some of the recommendations we had made, and sometimes added nuances that maybe we hadn’t thought about. With any project like that, that’s always very helpful.”

Some of the suggestions ranged from a streamlined layout for turning lanes, bulb-outs (curb extensions) to improve pedestrian crossings, improved lighting, and relocation of some transit shelters. There was even some discussion, he said, of streetscape improvements such as center islands and plantings that could “beautify and provide a crossing refuge” for pedestrians.

“Generally, across the board, it was a lot of good information that can go into the final study report,” Fitzkee said. “We can use that as a guidance tool as we move forward and work with the borough to decide what they want to advance.”

So, with recommendations in hand, officials began looking at costs and feasibility, Fitzkee said.

“From that point you sort of have some pretty solid numbers of what those improvements would entail,” he said. “So we can begin to work with the borough and plug it into an application and submit a request to PennDOT.”

Recommendations and funding

According to a crash analysis in the report, the most accidents from 2017 through 2021 occurred on Route 422 at Center Street (14) and Mill Street (12). Other concerns listed in the report include crosswalk safety, speeding in the eastern half of the corridor, and limited visibility at the intersections with Center and Garfield streets.

The report recommends lighting upgrades along the length of the corridor to improve visibility and safety, with existing lights being replaced with LED lights to increase brightness and reduce glare.

“Median islands and other physical treatments can be used to create ‘gateways’ into a community that signal a change in location and/or environment,” the report states. “Gateway treatments are proposed at both ends of Cleona Borough to signal to motorists they are entering an area where they should drive slower and expect pedestrians.”

Suggestions include a small median island in the vicinity of Christian Street and curb extensions on all legs of the intersection at Mill Street to shorten pedestrian crossings.

The estimated $1.8 million price tag for corridor improvements also includes new signs and pavement parkings, single upgrades and flashing beacons.

The next step, according to Fitzkee, is sitting down with borough officials to decide what improvements to pursue and what funding options are available.

PennDOT, for instance, has funding programs for multimodal projects and improvements that benefit bikes and pedestrians. Although it’s too late to seek those funds this year, Fitzkee said, there is plenty of time to submit applications in 2024.

“We’re in the process of going into our 2025 transportation improvement update,” he added. “We do the TIP every two years, and we’re just beginning the process. We’ll need to look at our resources … that might be eligible for some of the improvements that might be done here.”

Most of the improvements would best be done as one project, he noted, rather than piecemeal. On the other hand, he said, it’s possible they could shave the cost down a bit by separating out some portions of the plan.

“These programs are highly competitive,” he said, noting that last year the state had $18 million in funds to distribute and received $110 million in requests. Also, he noted, some funding programs require some level of a local match, so other sources of money will have to be found.

It’s unlikely that all funding sources will be determined before 2025, Fitzkee said, so “we’re still out a couple of years, even if we fast track it,” before bids are awarded and work begins.

“We’re trying to lay out next steps and work with the borough to move this forward,” he concluded. “We want to keep the momentum that we’ve developed, and hope to see it through to fruition. We’re anxious to see this through.”

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Tom has been a professional journalist for nearly four decades. In his spare time, he plays fiddle with the Irish band Fire in the Glen, and he reviews music, books and movies for Rambles.NET. He lives with his wife, Michelle, and has four children: Vinnie, Molly, Annabelle and Wolf.


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