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Pedestrian bridge in peril for Middletown Amtrak station plan; private developer backs out

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 12/5/18

Improvements to pedestrian safety — such as adding lighting, sidewalks and crosswalks — are being considered along West Main Street in Middletown, instead of an overhead walking bridge …

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Pedestrian bridge in peril for Middletown Amtrak station plan; private developer backs out

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Improvements to pedestrian safety — such as adding lighting, sidewalks and crosswalks — are being considered along West Main Street in Middletown, instead of an overhead walking bridge that was to be part of the new Amtrak station project.

That is one of the biggest takeaways from recent developments involving the long-delayed plans to move the station from Mill Street to a new home on West Main Street — plans that first were announced Dec. 6, 2010.

The pedestrian bridge would link Penn State Harrisburg with the new station along Emaus Street, which is to be extended to West Main Street as part of the project to provide better access to downtown Middletown for Penn State Harrisburg students.

The pedestrian bridge is “not 100 percent” off the table, but “we are currently evaluating our options” for alternatives, Rich Kirkpatrick, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, told the Press & Journal in an email Friday.

Another new wrinkle: The private development entity known as Keystone Connections has decided to withdraw from the project.

In early 2017, Keystone Connections was the sole entity responding to a request from PennDOT seeking a private developer to work as partners on the train station. These public-private partnerships are known as a “P3.”

Keystone Connections withdrew after determining that “revenues generated by potential commercial development and parking fees would not be enough to support the development costs and fund ongoing operating and maintenance expenses,” Kirkpatrick said.

Translation: Keystone Connections decided it won’t make enough money on the project.

Keystone Connections was to be responsible for any commercial development that would be part of the new train station, ranging from retail establishments to a hotel.

PennDOT plans also call for the pedestrian bridge to be maintained and operated by the developer.

The estimated $7 million cost to build the bridge is also a factor in PennDOT looking for an alternative solution to the pedestrian safety issue.

“That is a lot of money,” referring to the $7 million, Jenny Granger, manager of the Middletown train station project for PennDOT, told borough council during an update on the station Nov. 27.

The $7 million is not included in the $32 million that has been budgeted for Middletown train state improvements, so bridge funding is not in place, Kirkpatrick said.

PennDOT can readvertise the project to try and attract another partner. Granger said PennDOT might wait a year, as it may be easier to attract another developer when there are signs of construction at the train station site.

The work on the station itself will go on without a partner, and PennDOT will own the station and be responsible for all future maintenance.

Time frame for improvements

Proposed improvements for pedestrian safety would be located at the intersection of Lawrence Street, West Main (Route 230) and the extended Emaus Street.

According to Kirkpatrick, the alternative pedestrian improvements could include but are not limited to better lighting, sidewalks, “highly visible” crosswalks, and enhanced signals to alert approaching motorists.

Granger told council that PennDOT is also talking with Capital Area Transit about CAT moving some of its bus stops from Route 230 into “cut-outs or bus pull-offs” on Emaus Street that would be safer for people getting on and off the buses.

PennDOT is also discussing with CAT ways to improve the bus stops in the short term until they can be moved, Granger said.

These alternative improvements could be moved up in the schedule, instead of waiting for 2020, when train station construction is to begin, Kirkpatrick told the Press & Journal.

Penn State feedback

Granger at the council meeting said she met with Penn State Harrisburg officials, including new Chancellor John M. Mason Jr., to propose the alternative improvements.

“Penn State Harrisburg is working closely with PennDOT and other community partners on this initiative to promote the safety of pedestrians on and around our campus,” spokeswoman Yvonne Harhigh told the Press & Journal.

“We have heard the concerns from the borough and the university about pedestrian safety at this location and believe these improvements will be significant,” Kirkpatrick said.

Track work underway

It might not be very visible, but Norfolk Southern railroad has started its track-moving work that must be done before the new station can be built and hopes to finish it by early spring, Granger said.

Then, Amtrak will begin moving its tracks, a process expected to extend into 2020.

PennDOT plans to begin construction of the train station and platform in 2020, with plans to open it in 2021 or 2022.