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Getting closer to a walking and biking community

By Staff | Jan 25, 2011

County Commissioner, Rebecca Burke was on hand to answer questions and give support to the Walkable Communities Project that is being developed in conjunction with SEDA-COG and the County Planning Development Office for the Hughesville and Muncy areas.

HUGHESVILLE – Continuing plans are being discussed this month as the Lycoming County Planning and Community Development Department join forces with SEDA-COG to plan and develop a safe pedestrian and biking community within the East Lycoming area.

Borough officials, county commissioners, planners, and community members met at the Hughesville Library last Tuesday to discuss further developmental plans and to try to prioritize what projects to work on first.

Rebecca A. Burke, Chairperson for Lycoming County Commissioners, announced that the county is committed to partner with this initiative. Transportation planner, Mark Murawski said this project will lead to an extension of the Susquehanna River Walk. Jerry Walls, former Lycoming County transportation planner, who now serves with the Susquehanna Greenway Action plan that began in 2001, stated that Muncy makes an important hub for this kind of development since it is on the river. The Susquehanna Greenway has been established to develop the land and water corridor encompassing the Susquehanna River and the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, and to link the towns with their natural areas. Joining Muncy as an extension with the River Walk will add exceptional value to this project according to Walls.

Funding can come from various sources, federal and state for these cooperative partnerships to help us at a local level Murawski said. The Transportation Equity Act may be able to provide some funding for bicycle and walkable projects as opportunities to create a greener and more walkable community, both emerging markets according to Murawski. He expressed that this part of the county has strong solid support and will invest in its infrastructure. “We want to be able to change for the better,” he added. “The next step will be a funding quest to get this done. The county will serve as gatekeeper to find the money to make these plans possible,” Murawski said.

The planning process to revitalize the Hughesville and Muncy communities began about a year ago. A walk through was done by a study committee of community members over the summer months to designate some of the more troubled spots. These were the areas that made it difficult to make accessible connections safely by bicycle or walking to public buildings and businesses such as schools, banks, post offices, and grocery stores.

For example, one of the areas of grave concern that was identified earlier as a “hot spot” is the street in front of Muncy Hospital. “Some of the visual clutter can be eliminated with better signage,” said Brian Auman, Landscape Architect and Principal Planner with SEDA-COG.

The increase of truck traffic was also addressed by participating members. “We are establishing a dialogue with the gas companies to calm the trucks,” Murawski explained. “They do want to work with us,” he said in response for them to try to drive safely, use lower speeds during bad weather, especially since there are a lot of curved roads here. Muncy Police Chief Sutton stated that 250 trucks per day travel through Muncy just from Halliburton and will soon increase to 400 in the summer.

A way to calm the trucks is to install crosswalks on the main streets such as the section in front of the Muncy Hospital. Adding trees and landscaping with brick walkways will add a calming effect to the drivers, forcing them to slow down explained Auman who showed sample drawings of proposed crosswalks in some of the high traffic areas prioritized by the study committee. Nice streetscape plantings, crosswalks and bump-outs for pedestrian safety will slow down the rate of speed to a safer driving speed he said as a community planner.

“We want to connect townships and subdivisions to encourage walking. Ordinances can create easements to make it happen.” Auman said. Creating rich landscapes in the downtown areas changes how fast people will want to drive through town.

The intersection of Routes 220 and 405 in Hughesville was also designated as a major choking point and has to get improved. The trucks have to intersect that intersection to get where they are going, but this is going to be a 6 million dollar project announced Murawski. “We hope to find a good balance between the gas companies and the boroughs to finance this project,” he said.

Another priority project to add a safer connection that was identified is the Hughesville Race Street corridor. Pedestrian trails were suggested to be added behind the public parking lot which will link into the neighborhoods introducing the Muncy Creek Corridor.

“Most of the ideas are already in place,” replied Auman. “Let’s move them forward, and it is good to have the support of the county. It is conceptual right now, but a planning tool to move forward.”

The benefits for the project are immense, and will provide a huge impact down the line. Based on health alone and quality of life, the outcomes for environmental health and air quality will improve our local society. Data now shows that Pennsylvania ranks over 25% of the national obese rates, and some of the more rural areas are up to 45% of obesity rates. The goal here is to set up good physical exercise for all ages and to create opportunities for small town social interaction.

Other issues to consider are public safety and stopping distances between the vehicles. Roy Colley from Wolf Township pointed out that Hughesville has addressed some of the turning points already on the corner of Water and Main Streets, but more can be done to slow down the rate of speed through the Main Street corridor.

Bill Poulton, who chairs the Muncy Creek Planning Commission, said he would like to see the traffic slow down from the Muncy/Montgomery bridge as it enters Muncy. Linda Stein said a street scape project is well overdue for Muncy. “This could be a priority project because of the historical district,” she said. “Make it more handicap accessible with curb ramps to address an older community.”

Another area that was addressed as a priority project is Boak Ave. in Hughesville. Teachers commented that there is considerable foot traffic back and forth from the school and the athletic fields.

With the support of the residents and county officials, and actions to start, we can now adopt a plan of community principles to move forward said Auman to the group. “We will move forward with this process and present it at the next planning commission meeting,” he said.

No designated funding is in place yet, but Murawski assured that the county is putting together a plan for funding on the federal, state and county levels. Once the priority projects are set, funding can be established. Most engineering costs, however, will not be included, so there will need to be working relationships with townships to help replace sidewalks and create streetscaping.

Walls also announced that we can work with the Railroad Corridor and the SEDA-COG Joint Rail Authority, although there are some choke points. “It is challenging to find a suitable biking system, to find a good route that is cost-effective,” said Murawski. “These will be more localized projects,” he added.

Commissioner Burke finalized that there are multiple components to getting this done. “We need to gather up the funding, use municipal budgets in conjunction with county funds and identify as many resources as possible.

The next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 27 at 3:30 p.m. at the Muncy Valley Hospital.