Aug. 18–LEWISBURG — A Valley trucking firm pledged to reduce its travel through downtown Lewisburg while a grocery chain committed to a reduction during special events.
Representatives of both Watsontown Trucking and Weis Markets said their firms worked since the beginning of a road reconstruction project in Northumberland to control their respective impact on increased traffic along Market Street, which is Route 45.
Borough residents and downtown business owners raised concerns for safety and viability as 18-wheelers increasingly crossed through town on a shortcut from a detour on Route 15 — an unexpected consequence of the roadwork that’s impacted Route 147.
Lewisburg officials reached out to the office of state Rep. Fred Keller, R-85, of Kreamer, which contacted the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. The state agency then contacted the businesses, Keller said, without specifically naming which businesses.
Chad Mensch, director of safety for Watsontown Trucking, said company drivers are directed to respect the detour that advises truckers to drive north on Route 15 to Interstate 80 and avoid Lewisburg when seeking to connect to Route 147 and communities along the highway. That directive will be repeated more frequently, he said.
If a company employee spots a driver on Market Street, it’s reported to administrators, Mensch said.
“In the middle of the afternoon, no, we shouldn’t be there,” he said. “It costs us money to re-route traffic, but it’s safer.”
Dennis Curtin, spokesman for Weis Markets, said in a statement that both the Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway project and construction in Northumberland “forced our trucks to seek an alternate route” when serving stores south of the company’s distribution center in Milton.
“Route 45, which is a state highway, remains the most viable option,” he said. “We will also temporarily reduce our truck traffic through Lewisburg during Final Fun Fridays and late night holiday Fridays prior to Christmas.”
William Lowthert, Lewisburg borough manager, said his office received numerous complaints not only from residents and business owners but recently from parents of Bucknell University students concerned about pedestrian safety downtown.
A detour to any borough street, Market Street or otherwise, is not a solution, Lowthert said.
Mayor Judy Wagner thanked Weis Markets and Watsontown Trucking for considering the request to lessen heavy truck traffic.
“It’s a tremendous issue for the merchants. This is not a witch hunt. This is about the survival of many downtown businesses,” she said.
Tedd Biernstein, owner of the Smiling Chameleon Draft House on Market Street, said he’s heard from customers about the annoyances of increased traffic downtown.
It’s more crowded and noisier, he said, and that’s a concern.
“We’ve had a lot of customers that dine on our patio complaining. What can I do?” Biernstein asked.
Coleby Kauffman operates Tastecraft Market and Black Dog Jewelers, both on Market Street. If the truck traffic negatively impacted revenue, Kauffman said he hasn’t noticed — in part because Tastecraft is newly relocated from Mifflinburg and specialty business at Black Dog continues uninterrupted.
His concern, though, is the downtown experience. Lewisburg merchants tout the borough’s walkability from boutique to restaurant to public park. If visitors feel burdened or unsafe, he said it could lead to less foot traffic on Market Street.
That’s been the case at Black Dog, he said, where the frequency of the casual shopper strolling into the store has lessened.
“We understand we can’t control truck traffic. We need to continue to make the experience worthwhile for people to continue to want to come downtown,” Kauffman said.
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