Thursday, August 29, 2013

Easton City Council Approves Three Street Initiatives

By Christina Georgiou

Fourth Street in Downtown Easton may be reverted back
to being a two-way street, from its current status of
being a one-way, southbound road, if a traffic study
approved by city council Wednesday evening supports
the feasibility of the idea.
Easton's city council unanimously approved three resolutions Wednesday evening designed to improve city streets in the near future, two in the Downtown district, and one in the West Ward.

On the list were portions of Northampton Street and North Third Street, which the council approved to be taken back from PennDOT control, a traffic study of Fourth Street to investigate the feasibility of reverting the road back to two-way traffic from its current one-way southbound flow, and a study and plan development for improvements to the 13th Street corridor leading to the Silk Mill Redevelopment Project.

The turn-back of the segment of Northampton Street between Larry Holmes Drive and Seventh Street, along with North Third Street, is advantageous because of a one-time payment of approximately $665,000 it will entitle the city to get from PennDOT that will be put toward replacing crosswalks and handicap ramps in Centre Square that the city would otherwise need to fund.

The city will also be entitled to a $4,000 per year payment from the state agency for maintenance of the roadway in perpetuity, said Easton Public Works Director David Hopkins.

Easton is responsible for the maintenance of the crossings anyway, as PennDOT only maintains the roadway itself, he said.

"Over the past few years, we've noticed some rapid deterioration (of the crosswalks and ramps)," he said, adding that the roadway itself was last resurfaced about six years ago and is still in good condition. "We think our exposure on these projects is pretty low."

The area in yellow, along Northampton and North Third streets, will be
taken back from state control so that the City of Easton can take
advantage of funding from the state to replace crosswalks and curb ramps.
Click on the image for a full-size view.
The city estimates it will cost about $642,000 to replace 16 crosswalks and ramps in the Centre Square area, and the money from PennDOT for taking maintenance responsibility back would be more than sufficient to pay for the improvements, he said.

"I believe it's pretty inevitable we'd have to do this," he said, noting that if the city doesn't take the road segment back, it would still be stuck with the bill for maintaining the crosswalks.

Hopkins estimated the work on the crosswalks and new ramps will last 15 to 20 years, about the same amount of time the city estimates the roads themselves will last before needing resurfacing.

It will take PennDOT about six months to approve the take-back by the city, and then the city has two years to get the work done on the Centre Square area crosswalks to be reimbursed by the state agency, he said.

Talking about the possibility of reverting Fourth Street back to a two-way street from its current one-way southbound status, Hopkins said a study and design work to be provided by city engineering firm Pennoni and Associates will cost $13,300. The money will be provided through the existing traffic signal line item in the city's capital budget.

If the study indicates it's feasible, new traffic signals and signs needed to complete the switch would be paid for by a grant from PennDOT that includes other Northampton Street signalization improvements, Hopkins said.

Making the street a two-way road again would be beneficial, Hopkins said.

"It would give residents another north-south route through the city, while avoiding Centre Square," he said.

Mayor Sal Panto expressed support for the possibility.

"It's been proven that two-way streets slow traffic down," he said. "I think any time you can have a two-way street, you increase commerce because people get to see the city instead of driving around it."

Councilman Roger Ruggles asked if Ferry Street between Third and Fourth streets might also be included in the study.

"I think Ferry Street is an integral component," he said. "If you make Fourth Street go in two directions, I think Ferry Street needs to be two-way between Third and Fourth."

But for now, Ferry Street, along with the other one-way streets that comprise "the ring road" around Centre Square--Spring Garden and Second streets--are unlikely to become two-way, though the possibility has been discussed a number of times in the past and the city won't rule it out for the future, Hopkins said.

"I think Ferry Street has the potential to be two-way," he told city council members. "It's worth a look to se if it would work, but with a turning lane (that the new parking garage will require), it would significantly narrow the travel lane."

If it's deemed feasible to change the traffic pattern on Fourth Street, the number of parking spots will still be preserved, Hopkins added.

As for other one-way corridors in the Downtown district, along with a few others in the city, like Lehigh and Washington streets, they will need to be handled in the future on a case-by-case basis, Hopkins said.

"I think you have to look at each of them individually," he said. "We were able to negotiate with PennDOT for them to pay for the changes (to Fourth Street) if the study supports it."

The new traffic signals that will be needed to change the Fourth Street traffic pattern, if it happens, will be worked into an already existing plan to upgrade signals between Fourth and 13th streets along Northampton Street.

"They're not complete replacements," Hopkins said of the upgrades that are set to happen in the near future. "They're upgrading things like the signal heads and pedestrian signals."

Turning to the West Ward road project, the study and design work slated for the 13th Street corridor is part of the Silk Mill Redevelopment Project and will be undertaken at a cost of $200,000, funded entirely by a federal HUD Sustainable Communities grant. No city funds will be used for the project, city officials said.

The area, which abuts the 13th Street entrance and exit ramps to Route 22 as well as one entrance for the silk mill site, is to "ensure the future function of the roadways, approaches, and intersections leading to and from the proposed Silk Mill Redevelopment Project" and was negotiated through the city's existing agreement with city engineering firm Pennoni and Associates, Hopkins said.

It is expected the full study and plan development will be completed in mid-2014.

1 comment:

  1. As a downtown resident, I want to put out the idea that we should have NO vehicular traffic in downtown except deliveries. The 18-wheelers that come off of Rt. 22 East at 4th Street exit and cross town on their way to Rt. 78 really shake the foundation of some of these old and historic downtown buildings. Morning and evening rush hour traffic, including the school buses that come from Easton Middle and Elementary School complex, grievously escalate the noise and pollution in downtown. Living downtown means living with too much traffic.