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Plan targets backups in growing Shrewsbury business corridor

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The new Messina Highlands center is under development west of Interstate 83 in Shrewsbury Township.
The new Messina Highlands center is under development west of Interstate 83 in Shrewsbury Township. - (Photo / )

Transportation officials are looking at a novel design concept to help traffic flow off and onto Interstate 83 and through the interchange serving the growing Shrewsbury area of York County.

Further commercial development is either planned or underway in the area that has drawn residents from Maryland and others who work across the state line.

Notable business projects include a new campus for Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls Inc., which is expected to bring hundreds of jobs to the immediate area in the next several years, and expansion of retail capacity in the already-well-populated corridor.

A diverging diamond interchange project is expected to cost about $5 million and will shift the flow of traffic to the left side of Route 851 for both eastbound and westbound drivers as the roadway passes through the interchange with Interstate 83.

By comparison, a plan for the interchange several years back carried a price tag of about $27 million, said Will Clark, chief of transportation planning with the York County Planning Commission.

In the configuration, crisscrosses before and after the underpass would channel motorists temporarily to the left side of Route 851, then back again to the right side if they are not getting on the interstate.

But once in the configuration, motorists who want to turn left and get on the interstate can do freely without waiting their turn because of oncoming traffic. They will be on the side of the road they are turning toward.

Meanwhile, drivers getting on the interstate by turning right would have already exited before the switchover.

The diamond pattern also has advantages for drivers getting off at the exit because it should help to avoid current backups, which are a concern as they stretch back onto the interstate, Clark said.

"It's a newer concept," said Justin Gochenauer, project manager in the design unit of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's District 8, which includes midstate counties.

There are no diverging diamonds constructed in the district today, he said.

Commercial appeal

Homeowners aren't the only ones attracted to the Shrewsbury area. Where there are people, retail follows. For example, the new Messina Highlands center is under development west of Interstate 83 in Shrewsbury Township.

Tenants are slated to include the national chain Five Guys Burgers and Fries, which signed a lease for about 2,450 square feet of space.

The project as a whole is about 37,000 square feet of retail space in addition to a pad site for a user such as bank or quick-serve restaurant, said Kevin Potter, sales and leasing specialist with York County-based Rhino Realty Group Inc.

Potter is handling leasing for Messina Highlands LP.

The fact that the site is right next to other retail amenities is one of the selling points. The proximity will make Messina Highlands tenants a convenient stop for customers, and the location provides great visibility, he said.

Income levels and demographics are strong in the area, he said. Available space is limited in the area unless you move farther off the highway, Potter said.

"Everyone wants to be right along the I-83 corridor," Potter said.

Other leases have been reached, though the parties have not wanted to be named yet, Potter said.

In the coming weeks, he expects to make additional announcements of national retail names as Messina Highlands tenants. The stores are expected to be open by around next summer, he said.

York-based Bennett Williams Realty Inc. represented Five Guys in its Shrewsbury Township lease.

Bennett Williams partner Brad Rohrbaugh said the Shrewsbury area has been a strong market for retail, thanks to an influx of people because of how close the area is to Maryland.

Businesses also pull customers from a large area, considering the next such retail corridor is either around the South Queen Street area near York or the Hunt Valley area in Maryland, he said.

There are more than 30 miles between the respective exits of Interstate 83.

The Shrewsbury market is a place where retailers see the need for an additional site to cover the county even though businesses don't typically start their county footprints in the Shrewsbury area, Rohrbaugh said.

"Most retailers, if they don't see it right away, they see it very quickly," he said. "It is its own market point for York County."

Moving forward

The York Area Metropolitan Planning Organization selected the diverging diamond as the best option to move forward with improving the interchange, Clark said.

Nearly a decade ago, the upgrade effort secured about $2.8 million in federal funding, Clark said. The price tag was about $24 million more at the time, he said.

Officials now want to move forward on an alternative before they lose out on the money, Clark said.

"Considering the other option was to wait for more money to come along," he said. "Which we have been doing for some time now."

Construction is not expected to begin until around 2016 at the earliest, Gochenauer said. He said the project would be exciting to work on and the concept looks like it has a lot of advantages.

"It would be neat to see one put in place and see how it works," Gochenauer said.

Beyond retail growth

Hundreds of additional people might be driving through the interchange of Interstate 83 and Route 851 in the Shrewsbury area in the coming years because of a high-profile new campus for Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls Inc.

The firm is a major international and diversified player in the building efficiency, automotive interiors and battery sectors. It came to its York County campus through its York International acquisition in 2005.

Earlier this year, it closed on about 57 acres at the Stonebridge Business Park in Hopewell Township. The campus will include a heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment testing complex as well as an engineering and business support center, the company said.

The site will employ about 450 people. Meanwhile, the firm's Navy Systems business, Grantley manufacturing plant and about 250 workers supporting these operations will remain at the existing York-area campus off Richland Avenue.

Construction is expected to wrap up around late 2017, and Gov. Tom Corbett recently announced a $5 million state grant to support the project instead of allowing jobs to go across the state line to Maryland.

The cost of the project is expected to be more than $150 million, Johnson Controls said.

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