Feasibility Study: Introduction and Background

The Modern Transit Partnership (MTP) is a nonprofit organization that was established in 1997 to advance regional public transit goals in the central Pennsylvania region. The MTP supports and promotes public transportation, with a specific goal of promoting the planning and implementation of premium public transportation services in south-central Pennsylvania. This partnership consists of business, community, government, and individual members who strive to develop a regional transportation plan that will meet tomorrow’s transportation and infrastructure needs.

The MTP was created by Capital Area Transit (legally known as Cumberland–Dauphin– Harrisburg Transit Authority). CAT is a provider of public transportation services, including CAT bus service and other services, in the Harrisburg Metropolitan region. This Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor Preliminary Feasibility Study is the latest in a series of studies directed toward the planning and developing of high-capacity public transportation alternatives for the region.

In the early 1990s, CAT identified the need for improved public transit services based on recognition of increasing highway congestion, population growth, the rapid rate of land development in some sectors, and limited options for regional commuters. In response, CAT began a series of planning studies in 1993 to develop a future vision of transit services for the greater south central Pennsylvania region. These prior studies are listed in Table 1-1. The overall goal of these activities has been to define the role and dimensions of transit in the region for the 21st century. Over the last decade, CAT studies have identified a regional rail system as the highest priority and most promising transit improvement in the region, and also identified priority corridors within which to focus the development of this system.

With the preliminary engineering phase of the Capital Red Rose Corridor (HarrisburgLancaster) completed, the MTP and CAT selected the Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor for the next phase of investigating the feasibility of and prospects for deployment of premium transit service in south central Pennsylvania. This report represents a summary of the work completed during the Preliminary Feasibility Study.

Corridor Description and Project Purpose Statement

The overall purpose of this study is to determine the preliminary feasibility of deploying high-capacity transit service connecting the communities of Harrisburg, Hershey and Lebanon Pennsylvania. Figure 1-1 is a map of the Corridor with the “catchment area” shaded. The Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor is one of the fastest developing corridors in the region, and links the capitol city, several major generators in the Hershey/Derry Township area, and the Palmyra/Annville/Lebanon areas where significant new development is occurring.

The availability of open land at various locations between the boroughs and built-up townships suggest that the area will continue to experience faster than normal development. While analysis of traffic volumes and levels of service on roadways in the corridor was not part of the scope of this study, congestions issues along Routes 422 and 322 have been extensively documented in reports of other studies.

In fact, several recent studies have focused on current and projected congestion and traffic safety along the Route 422/322 corridor. The Lebanon County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) has been very active in assessing current conditions and in developing strategies and action plans to address congestion along the corridor. The Rt. 422 Congested Corridor Improvement Program, completed in 2006, identified numerous intersections where the level-of-service would be at “D,” “E,” and “F” without some intervention. The Federal Highway Administration’s summary definitions of these levels of service are as follows:

level of service D: approaching unstable flow level of service E: unstable flow level of service F: forced or breakdown flow.

Various short-term and intermediate-term improvements are either underway or planned that will improve levels of service along the Lebanon County portion of the corridor. However, as demand continues to grow, the levels of service will eventually degrade since the right-of-way is too limited at many points to support major construction projects to increase capacity.

In Dauphin County, the Hershey area, in particular, is characterized by the concentration of major generators including Hersheypark, the Hershey Medical Center, Hershey Lodge and Convention Center, Hershey Foods, Giant Center, and other significant generators and attractors of trips. While most metropolitan areas have major generators within their locales, the concentration of so many within a relatively small geographic area is not common.

The major roadways along the Corridor, including I-83, Route 322, and Route 422 all experience congestion during peak periods which is exacerbated at certain times by traffic destined to the major generators referenced above. The study is intended to produce a preliminary assessment of the physical, operational and economic feasibility of constructing and operating a premium public transportation service along the Corridor as one element in an overall strategy to improve mobility and encourage more sustainable land development patterns, while maintaining the economic vitality of the region.

To help guide the study effort, a formal Project Purpose Statement was developed and endorsed by the Modern Transit Partnership and the Study Steering Committee. Figure 1-2 (following the map of the Corridor) illustrates the relationship of the Purpose Statement to the identification and evaluation of corridor alternatives. The formally approved Project Purpose Statement appears in italics immediately afterwards