Ahead of a new parking lot project this year to service Lancaster’s Amtrak train station, county planners are hosting a public event to generate input and goals for developing the surrounding area.

County officials will be on hand today between 4 and 7 p.m. to discuss and answer questions from attendants on what they’d like to see included in what planners call a small area plan – a set of goals and parameters to steer future development. There will be no formal presentation, and residents are encouraged to come at any time within the event’s three-hour window.

The event will take place at Auto Traders International, 1009 N. Prince St., directly west of the train station. The entrance is on McGovern Avenue.

“This is really looking at the whole area” as a neighborhood, said Scott Standish, the county planning department’s executive director.

The attention to the future of the area comes before state transportation officials begin construction on a $24.5 million project this year to build a 220-space parking lot on Keller Avenue and an accompanying pedestrian bridge to connect it to the Amtrak train station, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

PennDOT officials will also be on hand to share more information about the project at today’s event, Standish said.

Construction of the surface parking lot will begin later this year, according to Alexis Campbell, a PennDOT spokesperson. Riders will be able to walk from the lot, over to the Thaddeus Stevens Bridge to reach the train station, Campbell said in an email.

A temporary bus shelter and stop will be built on the new lot, “with temporary bus service between the shelter and train station” until a pedestrian bridge is completed. That bridge is scheduled to be completed in 2025, Campbell said. It will connect directly to the walkway riders use to get to the train tracks from the station.

The pedestrian bridge project will also include an area for bikes, lighting and landscaping, the PennDOT spokesperson said.

Andrew Whalen, an optician and member of the Lancaster city Planning Commission, said he has noticed obstacles for pedestrians during his walk to work each day over the train tracks on the Thaddeus Stevens Bridge.

Sidewalks on the northern side are often covered in ice after a snow event, he said, and crosswalks on the city and Manheim Township sides with buttons to change the traffic signal don’t work.

The area around the train station has poor infrastructure for pedestrians in general, Whalen said. “It just doesn't make sense when you have such a walkable area” in parts of the city nearby.

While that is likely to enter conversations at today's event, the Keller Avenue project may also address some of that problem. It’s part of an initiative from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation called “Plan the Keystone,” launched in 2009.

The initiative focuses on making improvements to the Keystone Corridor, the train line that runs from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia. It includes stops in Elizabethtown, Lancaster city and Mount Joy.

They Keystone Corridor was originally built and operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad. Tracks west of Harrisburg are now privately owned by Norfolk Southern Railroad. From Harrisburg to Philadelphia, the tracks are owned by Amtrak.

In the federal government’s 2019 fiscal year, Lancaster’s train station was among the top-25 busiest in the country, according to Amtrak, with a ridership of 577,000.

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