Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Perilous stretch of Forster Street in line for big improvements, pending grant award

Forster Street in Harrisburg looking west towards Front Street and the Harvey Taylor Bridge.

If Harrisburg City Council has its way, major improvements will be coming down the road for Forster Street.

On Tuesday night, council unanimously approved submission of a grant application for $832,437, which would fund work to reduce the width of Forster Street between the Harvey Taylor Bridge and N. 2nd Street, among other changes.

“This is a new grant. It just came into existence,” said city Engineer Wayne Martin, at last week’s council work session, where the grant application was discussed in detail. “It’s federal transportation funds, so there are only so many certain roadways in the city that are eligible for those funds.”

The application, part of the “Capitol Gateway” project, now goes for approval to the Harrisburg Area Transportation Study (HATS), a regional transportation planning body covering Dauphin, Cumberland and Perry counties.

“It is a high-priority project,” Martin said. “I think it will score well. It’s been mentioned in about six different HATS safety transportation studies that have been done.”

Martin said the area is the most crash-prone in the city, with 47 vehicle crashes recorded between 2015 and 2018 within 250 feet of the intersection of Front and Forster streets.

Currently, the wide road already has one lightly used “slip” traffic lane westbound and lacks crosswalks at two intersections. The pedestrian intersections that do traverse Forster Street–one at Front Street and one at 2nd Street–are not compliant with federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements.

If received, the funds would be dedicated to reducing road width, creating new pedestrian crossings, replacing curbs, building bump-outs and installing landscaping.

The actual cost of the project is nearly $1.1 million. The city would provide its 20-percent match of $245,818 by taking on the pre-construction design and inspection process, Martin said.

In 2015, the state paved Forster Street but did not install ADA-compliant ramps. In fact, the project removed a crosswalk on the eastbound side of the Front and Forster intersection.

Martin said that the project is a perfect fit for the HATS grant, as HATS studies already have identified the area as currently unsafe for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists. It also is a regional connector between the city and suburbs, as well as a major commuter route.

During last week’s work session, several council members wondered why this project was selected over other high-priority road projects, such as improvements to State Street on Allison Hill.

“I want to make sure that we’re investing equally in all parts of our city,” said council member Ausha Green. “With Vision Zero, I know that one of the biggest focuses is State Street. So, to me, I would have rather seen that be a focal point of a major grant like this as opposed to something downtown.”

Martin said that the city was pursuing a parallel effort to improve pedestrian safety on State Street in its “rapid response” effort, which is part of the city’s “Vision Zero” program to eliminate pedestrian fatalities.

Mayor Eric Papenfuse has said that the city has been in negotiations with the state Department of Transportation both to allow the improvements to State Street and to help pay for them.

“State Street has been a priority since Vision Zero was enacted,” Martin said. “The only reason we selected this one is because of its current ranking on the (HATS) Regional Transportation Plan because it has that regional transportation importance. It hits all the requirements. It would be almost hard not to fund, and that would give us the opportunity to look for other sources for State Street.”

In other council action on Tuesday night, members unanimously approved a grant application for $250,000 to the PA Department of Community and Economic Development’s Greenways, Trails and Recreation Program. If received, the money would help fund the city’s planned Chutes and Ladders Playground in Reservoir Park.

The city currently has raised $500,000 of the estimated project cost of just over $1 million, which includes installation of an ADA-compliant permeable parking lot. Of the previously raised money, $250,000 has come from a state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources grant and the other $250,000 from federal Community Development Block Grant funds.

On Tuesday, City Council unanimously approved two other infrastructure-related measures:

  • A resolution to enter into an agreement with Philadelphia-based Kimley-Horn & Associates for engineering and design services for improvements to Chestnut and Walnut streets downtown, including new sidewalks and curbs, with a maximum cost of $165,000, funded with a state grant.
  • A resolution to enter into an agreement with Mechanicsburg-based Wilson Consulting Group for engineering services to extend the Boyd Street Urban Meadow from Fulton to N. 6th Street, with a maximum cost of $75,000, funded by a Dauphin County gaming grant. According to Martin, the agreement is for pre-construction design services, and the city is seeking funding for actual project construction.
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