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LVPC applies for $38 million federal grant for road improvements around LVIA

Members get new accident study and a preview of housing study

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission is applying for a federal grant that could result in at least $38 million in road improvements in and around Lehigh Valley International Airport.

In an unrelated matter at their Thursday night meeting, members of the LVPC board were presented with a new traffic safety plan that identifies high crash road corridors and intersections throughout the Lehigh Valley,

And they got a preview of findings in a new regional housing plan that will be released publicly in draft form next month.

The planning commission unanimously passed a resolution supporting an application for a federal TIGER grant that would be used to create "a multi-modal corridor" around the airport, which LVPC executive director Becky Bradley called one of the most congested corridors in the region.

TIGER is an acronym for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery.

The grant program is administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

To pursue the grant, LVPC has entered into an "innovative" public-private partnership with Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority, Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority, Lehigh Valley Industrial Parks, Inc., and the airport land buying Rockefeller Group of New York City.

"Right now we're up to a $38 million request," said Bradley. "That may or may not go up." She added it could be as high as $40 million.

The airport is in Hanover Township, Lehigh County. The proposed project area includes Airport Road, Schoenersville Road, Race Street, intersections adjacent to or connecting those roads, plus roads within the airport.

Bradley said Race Street would be widened "by a couple of lanes." A section of Airport Road along the airport also would be widened.

Intersections would be improved, with retiming of signals, on Schoenersville Road from the intersection with Airport Road south to 8th Avenue in Bethlehem.

New gateway improvements would be made into the airport. A "multi-modal" bus, taxi and airport shuttle area would be created, as would a new traffic circulation pattern inside the airport property.

"There are a number of rear-end collisions as people pull into the airport," said Bradley.

She said the application would not include improvements to Route 22 because they are included in another state/federal funding program.

Bradley said the application will be submitted Friday and LVPC will find out if it has won a grant by autumn.

"The project would have to be substantially underway and/or complete by 2016," she said.

Save Driving Saves Lives

The unveiled traffic plan is called "Save Driving Saves Lives: Traffic Safety Plan for the Lehigh Valley 2008-2012" -- a misleading title, since we're well into 2014.

The new study actually looks back at crashes that occurred between 2008 and 2012.

It reports there were a total of 36,878 crashes in Lehigh and Northampton counties during those five years – 263 involving fatalities and 18,164 causing injuries. A total of 290 people died and 25,455 were injured.

A goal of the plan is to find ways to reduce the five-year fatality average from 61 to 31 by 2030 and to reduce major injuries from 168 in
2010 to 84 in 2030.

One map in the report identifies 16 high crash corridors in the two counties; another lists 24 high crash intersections.

The end of the 83-page report contains charts showing different kinds of crashes in each municipality in the two counties.

Such reports are issued every other year, explained Chris Mukkadan, LVPC transportation engineer, but this one – which he wrote – offers more of a resource for municipalities.

"We put more emphasis on fatalities and major injuries and on significant crash sites in the Lehigh Valley," said Mukkadan.

He said the report looks at reportable crashes – those that caused an injury, a fatality or so much damage that at least one car had to be towed. According to the report, a total of 90,477 people were involved in those crashes during the five-year-period.

He said 2012 had the highest number of crashes and fatalities in the five-year period.

"Isn't this more of a study than a plan?" asked one planning commission member.

"It's a little bit of both," said Bradley.

"It used to be just a statistics report," said Mukkadan.

Planning commission member Ed Hozza, who is the mayor of Whitehall Township, questioned whether any studies have been done showing a correlation between the elimination of driver training in schools and an increase in crash rates.

Mukkadan said he has not looked into that.

Bradley said the traffic safety study will be posted on LVPC's website Friday morning.

Housing plan

The LVPC staff has been working for almost a year to develop the regional housing plan, said Bradley.

She said a draft of the plan will be made public "for review and comment" at 4 p.m. May 15 in Miller Symphony Hall in Allentown. She added the plan will not be finalized until sometime after that date.

"The real final result of this will be a strategic housing plan" laying out specific recommendations regarding how to deal with shortcomings that will be outlined in the plan, said Geoffrey Reese, LVPC's environmental planning director.

Reese said the Lehigh Valley has an imbalance of appropriately-priced housing. "We are over-supplied in the middle," he said, explaining people at the low end have to "buy up" and people at the high end have to "buy down."

He said when high end people buy down, those homes are not available to people who can only afford to buy them. He added housing becomes a cost burden when people have to buy up.

He indicated households are "cost burdened" if they are spending more than 30 percent of their gross income on housing.

"An ever-increasing number of households are cost burdened," said Reese.
"The demand for modest-priced housing is universal in the Lehigh Valley."

He said the Area Median Income for a two-person household in the Lehigh Valley is $58,700.

He said there's just not enough housing for households with annual incomes of $29,000 and less. He said the condition of housing also is a problem for those with lower incomes.

One-fifth of the Lehigh Valley's housing stock consists of multi-family apartments, according to Reese.

"The types of households are changing in the Lehigh Valley," reported Reese. "Family households are becoming a lesser component. They're losing market share, if you want to put it that way, in terms of the total number of households

"There are more single spouse and single spouse with children and large increases in householders living with housemates, instead of families."

The housing plan also will look at where people work and where they live, said Reese.

"We're trying to figure out if there is enough appropriately-priced housing for those workers to live in reasonable proximity to their jobs," he said.

Reese said 186,497 people both live and work in the Lehigh Valley, which the planning commission defines as Lehigh and Northampton counties.

(The two counties have a combined total population of 654,883, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.)

Reese said more than 88,000 people live elsewhere but come to the Lehigh Valley to work.

He said more than 103,000 people live in the Lehigh Valley but work outside this area.

"On that basis, we're a net exporter of labor," said Reese.

He said 64 percent of Lehigh Valley residents work here, 24 percent commute to other Pennsylvania locations, 11 percent commute to New York and New Jersey and one percent work somewhere else.

He said 68 percent of Lehigh Valley workers live here, 28 percent commute from other places in Pennsylvania and four percent commute from New York and New Jersey.

On a related issue, Bradley said 55-and-older developments are the number one type of housing developments being proposed right now.

"The interesting thing for us, looking long range, is what happens when the baby boom generation is no longer with us," she said. "There won't be enough people 55 and up to reoccupy those units."

Transportation Alternative Program

The federally-funded Transportation Alternative Program provides small amounts of money to local municipalities and school districts for projects such as sidewalk and crosswalk improvement projects.

"We have a budget of $1.27 million," Bradley told the LVPC board, "and we received $5.42 million worth of requests."

She said most of the 22 applications received came from communities in Lehigh County. Allentown submitted five applications, Easton submitted three and both Bethlehem and Slatington submitted two.

Bradley said on May 13, each of the applicants will make a five-minute "mini-presentation" to win a chunk of that money. On May 19, the Lehigh Valley Transportation Study will make a recommended decision on who will be awarded those funds, with a final decision on June 4.

"A lot of them are interesting and worthy projects," said Bradley. "This is going to be a tough process to go through."

Lynn Township district rejected

The LVPC board opposed plans to develop an age qualified community overlay zoning district in rural Lynn Township in northwestern Lehigh County.

It would allow "an urban development density" of four housing units per acre, said David Berryman, LVPC's chief community planner, who added: "When you think about Lynn Township, you think about farming and the Blue Mountain."

He said much of the township is largely farmland preservation and natural features.

He indicated the only "urban" area is around the village of New Tripoli.

"We have not supported urban development in Lynn Township," said Berryman. He said it's not appropriate for a township with that rural character.

He also indicated Lynn lacks the public utilities – public water and sewer lines and road systems – for such urban developments.

"There's a major concern about the adequacy of the infrastructure," said Bradley later. She noted four homes per acre would require a sewerage treatment plant. She said the treatment plant in New Tripoli "has very significant issues and it's over capacity."

Berryman also noted such an overlay district would create a density of development that would be inconsistent with the county comprehensive plan.

South Whitehall zoning

LVPC favorably reviewed a draft zoning ordinance for South Whitehall Township, which is just west of Allentown in Lehigh County.

Berryman said that township is bisected by Huckleberry Ridge, with mostly rural development north of that ridge and urban development south of the ridge.

He said South Whitehall is largely built out, meaning it has few large tracts of undeveloped land.

He said the township's draft ordinance is consistent with the county's comprehensive plan.

LVPC's review letter recommends against permitting commercial uses in the Greenawalds or Broadway Neighborhood Overlay District, because it would create pockets of commercial development in neighborhoods that largely consist of existing low-density residential development.

Draft comprehensive plan for Portland

LVPC also approved a draft comprehensive plan for the Northampton County borough of Portland, which is being updated for the first time since the late 1960s.

In another Northampton County issue, the commission board was told that a landfill in the borough of Bangor soon will be closing.

That landfill accepts ash generated from the combustion of coal at the Portland electric generating plant in Upper Mount Bethel Township, but that plant intends to stop burning coal on June 1.

The landfill will be capped with two feet of soil with vegetation planted on top and turned into a recreation area.

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