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Harrisburg’s northern gateway project back on track

Vehicles head east over the Maclay Street bridge in Harrisburg. The bridge is slated to get new paving, sidewalks and walls at part of the northern gateway project. Photo/Kathryn Morton

After a long period of uncertainty, construction of Harrisburg’s northern gateway will begin this spring or summer, said Ernie Hoch, the city’s director of public works.

The improvement is intended to draw traffic from Interstate 81, Routes 322, 22 and other adjacent roadways. The traffic and streetscape improvements will in turn help convince businesses to revitalize what now is a desolate, rundown corridor that will be dubbed the northern gateway. But the project almost was sacked last year. Harrisburg had to make some creative money moves to come up with a 20 percent match it needed to proceed.

The city is filling the funding hole with a federal grant that was intended for the now-defunct southern gateway project. That was Reed’s bigger, long-term development plan intended to double the size of the downtown. Federal law requires the city to use the southern gateway earmark for that project. But Rep. Tim Holden, D-Pennsylvania, is going get the money transferred from one pot to the other, said Greg Penny, a spokesman for PennDOT.

To fill the 20 percent hole up front, however, the city is using federal money it received to help fund future improvements to the Mulberry Street bridge, Penny said. The Mulberry Street bridge money will be recouped from the southern gateway earmark later, he said.

Other forces held up the northern gateway, too.

The city missed paperwork filing deadlines with PennDOT last summer, which could have been due to a change in city administration, PennDOT project manager Leona Barr said in an earlier interview. Reed handled the project from its infancy until he left office in January 2010. There could have been an adjustment period that took place after Mayor Linda Thompson took office, Barr said.

The city opened construction proposals in mid-December.

J.D. Eckman Inc., based in Atglen, Chester County, submitted the lowest bid of $6.54 million. The city has yet to finalize a construction contract but is working to do so, Hoch said.

PennDOT is the funnel for the federal funding for the project and the city is managing its development.

It was supposed to cost $4.9 million. But the cost of work on the Maclay Street bridge is higher than estimated because it is over a major railroad corridor and there is significant coordination that must take place, including an inspection of the bridge by a railroad inspector, Penny said. The bridge work — replacing the curbing and sidewalk — is tedious and labor intensive and will have to be done in several stages, he said. The estimate for the lighting and poles was based on standard equipment, but the corridor lighting is specialized and will cost more, Penny said. The cost of dealing with utilities is higher than anticipated, too, he said.

“This is often a tough item to estimate during the design phase, and tends to be much more involved and difficult,” Penny said. “There may be some increased cost due to higher prices over time since the estimate was first made, but the (other three) items were the main reasons for the higher bid prices submitted by the three contractors interested in doing the project.”

Harrisburg had to gain property easements it needs to move forward with the plan that will turn that stretch of road into the best driving route in and out of Harrisburg, Hoch said.

And combined with other developments in that part of the city’s Midtown, the northern gateway will be even more of a driving force for redevelopment, said Dave Black, president and CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and Capital Region Economic Development Corp.

Black was referring to the $135 million federal courthouse planned for North Sixth and Reily streets, and other developments, including the 1500 project, a $13 million, 92,000-square-foot condominium and commercial business project across the street from the courthouse.

Those types of developments will combine with the northern gateway to have a transformative effect in that section of the city, Black said.

“It won’t turn things around on its own,” Black said of the northern gateway. “However, in the context of the entire Midtown/Capitol Complex area of the city, it will be part of several catalytic projects raising potential for significant additional private sector investment.”

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