Feasibility Study: Maximum Bus Plan Concept

The only local comparison to help inform this discussion was the estimated ridership and costs for the Capital Red Rose Corridor. Average weekday ridership on that corridor was estimated at approximately 900 boardings at opening, and construction costs were estimated at approximately $ 19.4 million. While the preliminary ridership estimate for the Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor is higher than the Capital Red Rose Corridor, the capital costs for Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon will clearly be dramatically higher than the Capital Red Rose Corridor. Also, while the Capital Red Rose Corridor project has been exempted from application of FTA’s New Starts traditional rating criteria due to its low capital costs, the Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor will not qualify for such an exemption.

After consideration of the preliminary demand estimates of approximately 1,500 per day, the qualitative assessment of relative costs of the alignment alternatives and service concepts, and the comparative information for both local and out-of-state peer systems, the Modern Transit Partnership directed the study team to focus attention of the following two options:
Rail Alternative – Construct a third track along the NS right-of-way, for the full distance from Lebanon to Harrisburg, that prioritizes passenger use during commute periods and is available to NS for freight usage during non-commute hours.

Maximum Bus Alternative – Implement a premium bus service, generally paralleling the NS tracks and following the Rt. 422 and 322 alignments, that employs as many attributes of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) as are feasible; given the physical, operational and economic constraints that exist along the Corridor.

The full analyses for the selected rail and bus alternatives are documented in the remainder of this report.

Evaluation of a Maximum Bus alternative is appropriate both as a stand-alone alternative to potentially satisfying the long-term demand for high quality public transit service in the corridor; but also as a potential near term strategy that is part of an incremental approach to ultimately deploying commuter rail service in the corridor. One possible scenario is that through strategic investment in transit capital improvements in support of a frequent, high-capacity Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)-like service in the corridor, near term transit mobility needs can be addressed while also building a stronger transit riding habit in the communities along the Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor. The increased acceptance and utilization of transit along with supportive land development patterns could converge in a fashion that enhances the prospects for and the ultimate financial performance of a rail system.

Description of the Existing Bus System

Currently, bus service in the corridor, which includes U.S. 422, U.S. 322 and I-83 and parallels the Norfolk Southern rail right-of-way, is provided by three bus operators: County of Lebanon Transit (COLT), Capital Area Transit (CAT) and Capitol Trailways. Each of the services and the routes within the corridor operated by these three carriers is described below.

County of Lebanon Transit – COLT operates about a dozen bus routes which focus on downtown Lebanon and the passenger terminal at 7th and Willow Streets. Many of the routes operate on a timed transfer basis, with buses arriving and departing at approximately the same time to permit transferring between bus routes without lengthy waiting times. Colt services provide connections between Lebanon City and Hershey (principally along U.S. 422 and Hersheypark Drive) and intermediate communities (e.g., Cleona and Annville).

Colt also operates Twilight service on several routes including Route 8 service to the Hershey Medical Center. As a result of a short-range transit study conducted by COLT while this study was underway, COLT is currently doing operational planning leading up to implementation of an express bus service between Lebanon City and the Capitol Complex in Harrisburg, via Route 934 and I-81.

Capital Area Transit – CAT provides bus service in the Harrisburg metropolitan area with the Market Square Transfer Center serving as the focal point of the system. The system is extensive and includes approximately 32 bus lines that includes local, express (i.e., park-ride), and seasonal service to Hershey.

Of interest in the current analysis are three routes that operate in or adjacent to the corridor. Route 8: Derry/Rutherford originates at the Transfer Center (i.e., 2nd and Market Streets) and operates principally along Derry Street and provides service to major generators such as Harrisburg Mall, Wal-Mart and Swatara Square. Route 322 operates between downtown Harrisburg and the Hershey Outlets utilizing I-83, U.S. 322 and U.S 422. The route serves the Hershey Medical Center and other activity centers in Hershey. Reflecting the importance of Hersheypark as a major employer, Route HP is operated on Monday through Saturday between Memorial Day and Labor Day and connects the uptown area and downtown areas of Harrisburg and the Hersheypark Service Center (i.e., employee entrance).

Capitol Trailways – This carrier operates a Reading-Harrisburg route that provides service within the study area, including both specified stops along the corridor (e.g., Annville and Hershey Medical Center), and flag stops along other portions of the route. The route originates in Lebanon at the Capitol Trailways terminal at Schneider Drive and North Lincoln Avenue. Three round trips are operated daily including weekends. The Capital Trailways service is the only current service that operates the entire length of the Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor. (Note: just prior to the publication of this report, Capitol Trailways was acquired by Carl R. Bieber, Inc.)
For the most part, the existing bus services provide local bus service in that passengers can board and alight over the entire length of the corridor. The services are not coordinated among the operators, with service east of Hershey provided by COLT and service west of Hershey operated by CAT.

Feasibility Study: Service Concept Alternatives

Given the available alignment alternatives, the following alternative rail and bus service concepts were developed and considered:

A. One or Two New Passenger/Freight Joint Use Tracks Generally Within NS Right-of-Way – As noted above, there is not always room for more tracks in the existing right-of-way, so additional right-of-way may need to be acquired. Under this scenario, freight and passenger trains would jointly share all tracks in the corridor. This would likely involve considerable expense and could involve substantial conflict between freight and passenger train needs.

B. One Additional Passenger-Only Track Within NS Right-of-Way – In addition to the one continuous track throughout the Corridor, an occasional second track would be constructed to accommodate trains moving in opposite directions needing to pass each other. This option would entail many of the same construction elements and costs associated with the first approach, but without providing NS with a commensurate improvement in freight capacity.

C. New Passenger-Only Track Parallel to, but outside the NS Right-of-Way – As noted under in the discussion of alignment alternatives, this option would be considerably more expensive than either of the above options as it would require extensive right-of-way acquisition as well as new under-grade bridges, culverts, and overpasses

D. New Passenger Track Along NS Right-of-Way Between Lebanon and Hummelstown, and then via New Track Along Middletown-Hummelstown Railroad to Connect to Amtrak’s Keystone Corridor and Ultimately Downtown Harrisburg –This option would involve a longer and more circuitous routing when compared to serving the Corridor solely using the NS alignment It does have the advantages of avoiding the more congested portion of the NS Line in the vicinity of Rutherford Yard, more direct connections to HIA if that proposed station were to be built, and a more direct access to the Harrisburg Transportation Center. Implementation would require the full cooperation of M&H management and likewise entail considerable expense. On the downside, the existing M&H physical plant would need to be reconstructed in its entirety along with associated system improvements. This option also would not provide service to inner CORRIDORtwo stations west of Hummelstown (such as the Swatara Square, Rutherford and Paxtang areas). And finally, the M&H portion of the route would likely involve considerable flood plain issues and an expensive grade separation where the line crosses Rt. 322.

E. Premium Bus Service Generally Along the alignments of the NS Right-ofWay and Routes 422 and 322 – this concept would involve adaptation of “Bus Rapid Transit” (BRT) concepts to the Corridor. BRT is a relatively new concept that exhibits some of the advantages of rail service such as quicker speeds and enhanced comfort and amenities, but oftentimes at a lower total cost and with more flexibility to adapt to shifting development and travel patterns.

Selection of an Alignment and Service Concepts for Further Analysis

Realizing that all of the above alternatives would require considerable public investment, and knowing that FTA’s New Starts funding program is very competitive and relies heavily on cost per rider as a selection criterion; the study team proposed and the Modern Transit Partnership agreed to conduct a filtering process to narrow the list of alternatives. That process considered preliminary demand estimates, a qualitative assessment of relative capital costs for the various alternatives, and information for benchmark “New Starts” rail transit systems. It was felt that with that information in hand, strategic decisions could be made as to which alignment alternative(s) and service concept(s) should be the subject of further analysis.

The preliminary demand analysis was developed using of the Commuter Rail Aggregate Rail Ridership Forecasting model (ARRF) which was developed by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and is recommended by FTA for use on planning-level projects such as this Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor study. A purposely optimistic set of demand estimation assumptions including service frequency, travel speeds, catchment areas of stations, etc. was used for this preliminary analysis to avoid premature elimination of alternatives perceived as being more expensive.

Preliminary ridership estimates were developed for service frequencies of 15 minutes peak/30 minutes off-peak, 30 minutes peak/60 minutes off-peak, and 60 minutes during both peak and off-peak periods. The resulting preliminary demand estimate for the most optimistic level of service (service frequencies of every 15 minutes during peak periods and 30 minutes during the off-peak) was approximately 1,500 boardings per typical weekday, which was not considered to be a high number when viewed in the context of the likelihood of relatively high capital costs associated with all of the alternative rail alignments and service concepts. Although these figures were considered very preliminary and subject to revision as the study progressed, they were considered to be sufficiently reliable to use for the early filtering of alternatives.

For a benchmark “New Starts” project, the Utah Transit Authority’s FrontRunner rail service — a new 44-mile new commuter rail line – was viewed as a reasonable peer system to use for comparison purposes. Similar to service option B, FrontRunner will operate over exclusive, passenger-only tracks constructed within the right-of-way of a heavily-trafficked Union Pacific freight line. The majority of the line is single tracked, with several double-tracked passing sidings. The capital cost for the Utah line is estimated to be $611 million. Initial FrontRunner ridership is forecasted to be 5,900 weekday trips and eventually grow to 12,600 trips by 2020.

While detailed cost estimates had not yet been developed for any of the HarrisburgHershey-Lebanon Corridor options, prorating the 43-mile FrontRunner’s statistics to the 25-mile Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor alignment via the NS Harrisburg Line suggested potential Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor capital costs that could exceed $300 million. Likewise, prorating FrontRunner’s ridership estimates to account for the shorter length of the Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor would result in FrontRunner benchmarks of about 3,300 weekday trips on opening day. The relatively low Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor demand estimate (when compared to the Utah project) coupled with order-of-magnitude capital costs that could approach $300 million were considered to be significant, given the highly competitive nature of the FTA New Starts funding program. The Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor will need to compete with other projects like FrontRunner from across the country when applying for construction grants. FrontRunner did qualify for New Starts funding at approximately 50% of total project costs.

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

Premium Transit Feasibility Study and Alignment Alternatives: Part 1

Executive Summary

Project Purpose:

The Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor Study was commissioned by the Modern Transit Partnership and financed with funding provided by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and a group of interested stakeholders in the Hershey area. The purpose of the study was to build upon earlier transit studies done for the South-central Pennsylvania Region and the Capital Red Rose Corridor by advancing a preliminary feasibility study to:

• evaluate alternative alignments and preliminarily assess the feasibility of introducing premium public transportation service in the Harrisburg-HersheyLebanon Corridor

• demonstrate leadership and vision by developing strategies and projects that address both current transportation challenges and projected mobility needs • emphasize a comprehensive mobility perspective rather than a focus on individual modes of travel, and

• identify practical solutions that include both short-term actions and long term strategies to enhance mobility and stimulate economic development.

Preliminary Feasibility – Overall Findings:

1. Commuter rail service is both operationally and physically feasible in the Corridor, but significant engineering, operational and financial challenges will have to be addressed.

2. A Maximum Bus Plan, that incorporates many features of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and provides a significantly higher level of service than residents are currently familiar with, can provide near-term transit improvements at substantially less cost than the rail alternative and with minimal community disruption.

3. The most feasible approach to introducing commuter rail in the HarrisburgHershey-Lebanon Corridor would be to construct a new passenger track along the Norfolk Southern (NS) main line throughout the Corridor; but doing so in a manner that does not interfere with the efficient movement of freight traffic by NS.

4. The rail alternative will require institutional cooperation and support among state, county and municipal governments; and between the public sector and Norfolk Southern.

Commuter Rail Alternative:

Recognizing that Norfolk Southern’s Reading-Harrisburg main line is one of their most heavily travelled freight routes, the cooperation of NS will be essential to introducing rail passenger service on the line. Careful attention will have to be given to minimizing potential clearance conflicts between freight and passenger operations on adjacent tracks, and through passenger platform areas.

Most, but not all, of the NS mainline right-of-way can support the introduction of a new third track that would be prioritized for passenger use but made available to NS for freight use during non-commuter time periods. Of the 45 existing structures on the line, 21 require modifications or relocation of the existing NS lines and 11 require partial or full replacement.

• The preferred operating plan would provide 13 round trips along the entire length of the corridor on weekdays, and eight round trips on weekends and holidays. Special runs could be operated to expand capacity and alleviate traffic congestion for special events at Hershey area venues and in downtown Harrisburg. Shuttle service would be required between the rail stops and select major generators.

• Applying a demand forecast model recommended by FTA for use in studies of this type yielded “order of magnitude” average weekday rail ridership estimates of 1,375 at startup and 1,700 by 2030. The FTA model was calibrated based on 2000 Census travel habits and therefore does not reflect shifts in mode choice experienced during the spike in fuel costs over the past few years. Other factors that are not totally addressed by the FTA model include: impacts of transit oriented development (TOD), the collective magnitude of the major generators in the Hershey area, the impact of increasing congestion on parallel roadways, and the synergy that could be created through the introduction of multiple rail services in the area. Therefore, the 2030 ridership estimate is likely understated and the extent of the underestimation would have to be determined through more rigorous demand modeling techniques and special studies of the potential rail demand associated specifically with the Hershey area generators.

Commuter Rail Plan Facts (2008)

Route Length 26.8 miles

30-75 minutes Off- Peak Service Frequency 80-120 minutes

Weekday Round Trips 13

Trip Time Between End Points 55-60 minutes

Average Speed Between Endpoints 29 mph

Typical Weekday Boardings (2008/2030) 1,375*/1,700*

Average Fare (2008) $2.77

Capital Costs (2008) $267 million

Annual Operating Expense (2008) $17.3 million**

Annual Revenue (2008) $1.0 million

Farebox Recovery Ratio 5.8%

* The modeling techniques used for this preliminary feasibility study may not fully account for the potential rail ridership associated with the multiple major generators in the Hershey area. A separate study would be required to more accurately determine the additional rail trip potential.

** Annual Operating Expense includes $890,400 for feeder bus service and $912,000 for an infrastructure renewal fund.

Maximum Bus Alternative:

• Signal preemption/prioritization, bus priority lanes, and other traffic engineering techniques that emphasize efficient flow of people rather than vehicles will be required to afford the Maximum Bus Plan a competitive advantage that leads to transit becoming the natural choice of more travelers along the Corridor.

• Recognizing that existing development and limited highway rights-of-way represent real constraints on economically implementing capital improvements aimed at creating higher bus speeds, emphasis should be placed on offering both on-board and on-street amenities that are highly valued by regular commuters.

• Separate branding can help differentiate the premium bus service, with its higher levels of convenience and service, from conventional local transit service with which people are currently familiar. • Transit stops must be strategically located to achieve an appropriate balance between the desire to maximize access to the service and the importance of providing attractive travel times for longer distance travelers. Seventeen stops (plus local stops in downtown Harrisburg) have been identified to serve all major markets and most major generators. Shuttle service may be required to connect certain major generators to the premium bus service.

• Estimated ridership for the Maximum Bus Plan was derived using an adaptation of the FTA model to reflect the level and frequency of service for the bus plan, the proposed stopping pattern, and study area demographics.

• The Maximum Bus alternative is the most feasible near term solution due to its more modest operating cost and the fact that major capital projects are not required. While the cost is much lower than rail, the Plan would still require a significant financial commitment. In return for that commitment, the HarrisburgHershey-Lebanon Corridor would benefit from a premium level of transit service and amenities than are currently unparalleled in Dauphin or Lebanon County.

• Since it is common practice to start new transit services at a more modest level and eventually build up to the maximum levels shown in plans that cover an extended planning horizon, a “Startup” bus option has also been developed. Although the Startup Plan scales back service levels and costs somewhat, all other attributes of the service would be the same as the Maximum Bus plan, and the resulting service would still represent a very high level of public transit service in the Corridor. The Startup Plan would supply approximately 27% fewer vehicle hours of service and is projected to attract approximately 19% fewer riders than the Maximum Bus Plan.

Maximum Bus Plan and Startup Bus Option Facts

Maximum Bus Plan Startup Option Route Length 33.0 miles 33.0 miles

Leb-Hbg 20 minutes Leb-Hbg 20 minutes

Hershey-Hbg 10 minutes Hershey-Hbg 20 minutes

Off- Peak Service Frequency 30 minutes 30 minutes

Weekday Round Trips 35 Leb, 50 Hershey 35 Leb-Hershey-Hbg

Trip Time Between End Points 83 minutes 83 minutes

Average Speed Between Endpoints 23 mph 23 mph

Typical Weekday Boardings (2008/2030) 1,750/2,050 1,425/1,625

Average Fare (2008) $2.00 $2.00

Capital Costs (2008) $8.5 million $6.8 million Annual Operating Expense (2008) $4.32 million $3.1 million

Annual Revenue (2008) $.95 million $.72 million

Farebox Recovery Ratio 21.8% 23.20%

Peak Period Service Frequency

Next Steps:

• The Modern Transit Partnership should consult with local elected officials and key stakeholders to assess the level of interest in and commitment to pursuing both short-term and longer-term public transportation improvements for the Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor.

• One approach could be to advance the Maximum Bus Plan as a means of providing near-term improvements while longer-term strategies are formulated and refined. An advantage of this approach is that the transit riding habit along the Corridor could be bolstered, helping to strengthen the case for investment in rail service and lessen the attendant financial risks of the larger rail investment. If this step is taken, more detailed operations planning would need to occur to refine various aspects of the Maximum Bus Plan

• Recognizing that the “order-of-magnitude” demand forecasts developed as part of this study may not fully take into account the potential rail ridership that could be generated by the assortment of major generators in the Hershey area, it would be beneficial to conduct a more in-depth analysis of that topic to help inform the decision-making process regarding possible next steps. Another suggested topic for focused study is to assess the potential for transit-oriented development at the postal service site on Market Street in Harrisburg (the proposed terminus for the Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon rail service).

If there is sufficient interest in pursuing the rail alternative, a more detailed Corridor study would be required to refine the engineering analyses, demand estimates, and other findings of the preliminary feasibility study to a level that would address the competitive performance requirements of the “Federal Transit Administration New Starts” program and satisfy basic requirements for funding eligibility.

A thorough economic viability assessment to include capital investment and funding sources, direct and indirect benefits of project implementation, and prospects for generating reliable and adequate sources of funding for ongoing operating expenses should be a key element of future project development efforts for the rail alternative.