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PennDOT: Reducing flooding along Paxton Creek could open up development opportunities

A rendering of proposed restorations along Paxton Creek in Harrisburg. - (Photo / Submitted)

For upwards of $90 million, Harrisburg could put about 220 properties and more than 400 acres of land along the Paxton Creek in play for development.

But the city first has to come up with the funding through a mix of public grants and private sources. The money would fund a creek restoration project between Herr Street and Interstate 83. Harrisburg already has a $2 million state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant to help fund preliminary creek work.

The goal of the long-discussed project is to widen the creek, which was channelized more than 100 years ago. That would lower the flood elevation level from 317 feet to 314 feet – essentially reducing the change of flooding.

That flood mitigation work, which has been estimated to cost between $60 million to $90 million, would change the mapped floodplain.

As a result, about 147 properties spanning 275 acres along the creek would see a reduction in flooding exposure, while another 73 properties over about 133 acres would be completely removed from the floodplain, said Jennie Granger, deputy secretary of multimodal transportation at the state Department of Transportation.

“This could have a monumental, positive impact for the city, the region and the commonwealth,” Granger said, adding that property values could rise by 15 percent without any other improvements.

She was the keynote speaker at the Harrisburg Chamber and Capital Region Economic Development Corp.’s transportation breakfast on Thursday morning.

The focus of her talk was to update business and government leaders about the second part of a creek restoration study, which is expected to be done by the end of the year and provide next steps for the restoration effort. The first part of the planning effort took place earlier this year.

“It’s not a cheap fix, but it can be accomplished,” Granger said.

Once that study wraps up, one of the next big pieces will be developing a funding strategy, she said. That will take various state agencies, the city and Dauphin County, as well as private investors.

While there is no timeline for the actual flood mitigation work, business leaders see potential opportunities ahead.

CREDC President David Black said the project will benefit many properties along the creek, including the former Harsco Corp. site his organization purchased near Herr and Cameron streets. 

A mixed-use redevelopment is probably ideal for the 21.3-acre industrial site, Black said, but environmental assessment and remediation work is needed first.

The Harrisburg Transportation Center also could benefit from the creek work.

A $15 million train station renovation is in the works. Granger said a new roof will get put on the building, but longer-term plans to renovate the main lobby and add new indoor and outdoor seating and create new restaurant and office spaces are still on hold. PennDOT is negotiating with Amtrak on building plans and a construction schedule.

The creek improvements also would help open up other transit-oriented development around the train station.

master plan released earlier this year calls for investments in streetscaping and facade improvements along Market Street, on both the east and west sides of the tracks, which could include improved sidewalks, bicycle lanes, more trees and additional lighting poles, among other options.

The plan also calls for building a pedestrian bridge over the train tracks that would connect the station to parking areas to the east of the station, while relocating the intercity bus terminal at the station to a nearby location and adding a new plaza on Market Street for the transportation center.

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