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Hershey-area transportation study: wider roads, more sidewalks and concerns about property values

The Derry Township Board of Supervisors on Tuesday night reviewed the first draft of the Greater Hershey Regional Transportation Study — a roadmap for longterm transportation growth in the area — during a special meeting.

The study accounts for projected growth from new developments, such as the West End project, which will increase housing, shopping and dining in the area. Recommendations from the study include widening roads, improving 35 intersections throughout the township and building sidewalks to increase pedestrian safety.

A handful of community members said they were unhappy with some of the recommendations outlined in the draft at the meeting and said they were fearful of their property values decreasing and taxes rising as a result of the recommendations.

Eric Stump is the traffic team leader for the Eastern Region of HRG, the company that created the study. He explained the recommendations in it are conceptual and account for anticipated growth as far out as 20 years. He said it will be a living document that can be updated as needed.

“No construction is imminent for these, this is just again the first step of that process. That’s why we’re reaching out to the public and the board today to gain feedback,” Stump said. “Is there something that we missed that maybe should be implemented into the plan? Is there something that we maybe went too far with that we need to scale back?”

He said that public comments on the draft are due by Aug. 7 and the draft will be completed by the end of the month. The final version of the study will be used as a reference guide for future expansion and capital projects.

Supervisor Carter Wyckoff said the study will be dynamic considering the uncertainty of the future caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s interesting how much things have changed even in the time since the study was not only commissioned but completed,” Wyckoff said. “A lot of businesses have closed for good and I don’t know what will replace them.”

Community concerns

During public comment, members of the community said that they wanted a longer period of review and public comment for the plan. Specifically, several residents of the Governor Road area expressed concerns that the recommendation to increase Governor Road to five lanes would decrease their property values and create a safety issue.

Kathryn Byrnes, a Governor Road resident, said the neighborhood was not contacted about the study or the recommendation of expanding it.

“Our property values will go down by a lot, our taxes will go up. Our homes may be unsellable,” she said. “None of these [concerns] are assessed in the plan, and we want to know when and how they will be measured and properly considered.”

Stump said the document will help the township achieve grant money down the line.

“When grant programs are available, they generally award much higher points in their scoring system if grant improvement is documented in a previous study rather than a reactionary thing.”

Mary Beth Backenstose, the owner of a 215-year-old home on Governor Road, said she is concerned that the road expansion will impact the home.

“To tear down that building or destroy that building in any way shape or form would be a travesty. It has been there since 100 years before Milton Hershey came and established the town of Hershey and the chocolate corporation.”

A look at what’s in the study

The study outlines several recommendations, including widening roads, creating new roads and improving 35 intersections while still preserving the small-town feel of the area.

The plan identifies the cost of each recommendation and potential areas for funding, such as federal and state grants or private funding.

Other goals included creating streets that accommodate bicyclists and promoting pedestrian safety, as well as constructing sidewalks and off-road trails.

Community members can submit comments or concerns to agallagher@hrg.inc.com by Aug. 7.

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