Ask people what they like about living in the midstate, and many top their list with proximity: “It’s so close to New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore …”
What they’re really saying is they enjoy the region’s easy lifestyle, low cost of living, abundant space and jobs, but they can readily reach bustling cities when they want to.
“That’s absolutely a perk to this area,” said Silver Spring Township resident Sherri Kimmel. “I’m from the great Midwest. I always longed to be within driving distance of all those places. That’s one of the reasons I moved to this area.”
Kimmel works in Lewisburg as editor of Bucknell University’s magazine during the week and returns to “home base” most weekends. The highways are a breeze, although she expects trouble when construction begins on 27 miles of routes 11/15 in 2017. She didn’t have that worry when she commuted to Philadelphia by train – she left her car at the Paoli Amtrak station, traveled to Harrisburg’s station, and worked on the way.
“I read and I’ve written articles, so the train has been a mobile office for me,” she said.
Mary Kuna’s job at Cumberland Area Economic Development Corp. involves selling this region to companies considering business here. Access to transportation helps close the deal.
“The fact that we have a train station right in Harrisburg is a big deal — a way to get from Point A to Point B,” she said. “And we have three airports right here. That’s a huge plus for me selling this area to people. It’s also a big plus when you talk about quality of life for people living here. The location itself gives you the best of both worlds — you can stay here, away from the crowds, but be in Baltimore or New York in a few hours.”
Swatara Township’s Harrisburg International Airport connects regional residents to the world.
“There’s nowhere in the world you can’t fly to from Harrisburg,” said HIA spokesman Scott Miller. “You don’t have to fly to Philadelphia or D.C. to go internationally. And things that are
made here are sent all over the world
from HIA; goods are brought in from all over the world, which benefits people in this area.”
But local connectivity gaps remain the bane for planners looking at the bigger picture.
“All the assets are here, but they’re not interconnected because people in this region really love their cars,” Miller said. “We don’t have big-city mentality. We don’t think like a region of 1.8 million people. That’s a lifestyle that’s probably not going to change anytime soon.”
But it will get better. The state Department of Transportation’s long-awaited $32 million rework of Middletown’s Amtrak station should fill an interconnectivity gap. With a promise of intermodal options via shuttles and buses, passengers will be able to get from HIA to downtown Harrisburg or Lancaster without hiring taxis or renting a car.
“PennDOT is supportive of and actively invests in multimodal connections across the state and at these stations,” said PennDOT Deputy Press Secretary Erin Waters-Trasatt.
The Middletown project is expected to be completed in phases from 2016 through 2018.
PennDOT is also upgrading Harrisburg’s station to speed up travel through the Keystone Corridor between Harrisburg and Philadelphia. In August, Toby Fauver, PennDOT’s deputy secretary for multimodal transportation, said the project is being designed in tandem with Harrisburg’s comprehensive plan. The $47 million rework would allow trains to travel 50 miles per hour faster than they do now.
That’s the kind of planning Kuna said is essential.
“This is a large state,” Kuna said. “The best thing Pennsylvania can do is invest in infrastructure. And we’re working on it. It’s known where the gaps are, and it’s changing.”