Allentown
50° F
Clear
Clear

Allentown competing for traffic, street-scape improvement grants

By Randy Kraft, WFMZ.com Reporter, RKraft@wfmz.com
Published On: Jun 19 2014 06:47:59 AM CDT
Updated On: Jun 19 2014 10:45:17 AM CDT
Allentown city council 6-18
ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

Allentown is competing to win state grants for traffic improvements, pedestrian lighting around the heart of the city and a new section of paved trail along Little Lehigh Creek.

On Wednesday night, City Council unanimously approved plans by the administration to apply for a total of more than $3.9 million in grants

The city hopes to get:

• $700,000 for the design and construction of a paved, multi-use
trail, complete with “continental crosswalks” and hand-activated light signals.

• $1 million for traffic signal improvements at 20 intersections in
downtown Allentown.

• $140,000 to improve pedestrian safety and “calm” traffic on South
Jefferson Street between Wyoming and Lehigh streets in south Allentown.

• $1,070,000 to improve the intersections of Union and Lehigh streets
and Union and S. 6th Street.

• $1 million for center-city pedestrian lighting.

Each of the grant applications is being submitted independently, with no priority ranking of preference by the city.

“We’re hoping they’re all approved,” Lauren Giguere, the city’s grants manager, told City Council Wednesday night.

But she acknowledged the competition will be tough.

Emmaus, Bethlehem and many other municipalities across the state also are applying for a total of $60 million in grants, available from a Multimodal Transportation Fund.

Giguere said it’s a new funding source through the state.

Council member Jeanette Eichenwald asked about prioritizing the projects. She said some of the city’s proposals “seem so much more necessary than others. Notice I didn’t say which ones.” But she then indicated pedestrian lighting seems the most important.

“We had a much larger list when we started,” said Giguere. “We narrowed it down to this group. The team has put a lot of work into these projects and into the applications.”

Giguere explained there are two identical ways to apply for the
grants: through the Department of Community and Economic Development’s Commonwealth Finance Agency or through the Department of Transportation.

She explained DCED has $40 million in grant money to distribute and PennDOT has $20 million.

Council had to act immediately, because applications for the DCED grants are due Friday and those for the PennDOT grants are due June 20.

Giguere said the city was encouraged to apply to both departments for the grants, which it is doing for three of the five proposed projects.

If it wins one grant, it will not also get the other grant for the same project.

She said if projects are approved, the city will have to appropriate the funds in the budget and then seek bids to get the work done.

Giguere also explained matching funds are required to win any of the grants.

Coordinated downtown traffic signals

Craig Messinger, the city’s public works director, explained the 20 proposed improvements for 20 downtown intersections will create “a responsive system, as traffic patterns change throughout the day.”

He said the computerized traffic signals “actually work as a team” to improve traffic flow. “They coordinate with each other.”

City Council already approved $1.4 million for that work back in April, money which is being used to improve 35 other intersections in downtown before the new hockey arena opens in September.

Union Street intersections

The Union Street project proposes installing traffic lights at Lehigh and Union and, less than a city block away, at 6th and Union.

Messinger noted currently people going north on Lehigh can only turn right onto Union, then left onto 6th Street, continuing north to get to center-city.

With more jobs and more visitors coming to center-city, Messinger said the city wants to open up the Union and Lehigh intersection, so people also can turn left on Union to get to all downtown parking garages.

“We want to be able to split the traffic up, not put everybody on 6th Street,” he explained.

“If they want to head west, they have to go all the way to 6th and Linden, then drive up Linden Street. This will alleviate that.”

The total estimated cost of improving those two intersections is $1,391,000.

South Jefferson Street

Messinger said drivers speed on S. Jefferson Street between Wyoming and Lehigh, because “it’s a long stretch with no stop signs.”

The city plans to do “traffic calming through markings, sort of what we did on Hanover Avenue.”

The public works director said crosswalks will be added at intersections along that stretch of Jefferson.

The city also plans to add flashing yellow lights and yield signs to improve safety for people who cross Jefferson to get to a church, apparently the one where Jefferson merges with Lehigh.

Messinger said that project will include clearly delineating traffic lanes with thermo-plastic road markings, but no traffic signals, where several streets intersect with Jefferson at the entrance to Lehigh Parkway.

The total cost of that project is estimated at $200,000.

Pedestrian lighting

City planning director Michael Hefele said the pedestrian-scale street lighting would be installed on streets leading into and through the downtown area.

“One of the comments we often hear is that the residential streets are dark and creates a seemingly unsafe environment,” said Hefele.

He said the project is being proposed in response to that concern, as well as to create connectivity and walkability between residential neighborhoods and downtown.

He said City Council already has allocated $650,000 to the program over the last two years. “We haven’t spent that yet. We would marry it with this program, if it was successful, to create a total project cost of $1.6 million.”

Hefele said that type of lighting already has been installed in front of Sacred Heart Hospital, in the 900 block of Turner Street and on 19th Street.

Trail

Although few may know its name, the first section of the paved Martin Luther King trail already exists.

It begins at S. 4th Street near the Parkettes training building, parallels Martin Luther King Drive as it runs west, and ends at a parking lot in Fountain Park, next to the park’s closed swimming pool.

The plan is to continue the trail west, then south, crossing the S.
10th Street Bridge over Little Lehigh Creek. Then it will run between the old railroad line and the south bank of the stream. It will go under the 15th Street Bridge and terminate at Lehigh Parkway North, near the old humped Schreibers Bridge.

Extending that trail by an additional 1.1 miles will cost a total of
$1.4 million.

John Mikowychok, the city’s parks and recreations director, said Allentown already has received two grants for the project: $350,000 from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and $350,000 from Lehigh County.

Mikowychok told council several intersections along the trail require “considerable treatments and upgrades.”

He said those trail/intersection improvements will include Lehigh Street and MLK Drive, 10th Street and MLK Drive and where the new section of trail will terminate at Lehigh Parkway North.

If the city wins that grant, the parks director hopes that work can be done before the end of 2015.

New street lights coming

Also during the council meeting, city managing director Francis Dougherty announced all the street lights in Allentown will be converted to LED lighting.

He said the city is preparing a request for proposals from contractors to do that project, which is not dependent on receiving a Multimodal Fund grant from the state.

Dougherty indicated that request for proposals will go out once the city identifies funding for that project.

“With the adoption of that technology would come software so we will know when a light is out,” he said. He noted that will eliminate the need to send people out at night to look for street lights that are out.