The Preservation of Heritage and Improvement of Quality of Life for City of Lebanon initiative developed as a part of the City of Lebanon Bridges Over Norfolk Southern project (COLBONS), which proposed construction of two bridges over Norfolk Southern (NS) rail lines in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. The initiative, supported by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), the city of Lebanon, and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), worked to address quality of life concerns for current residents while respecting a historic burial site located during archaeological investigations.
PennDOT's proposed construction of the two bridges was planned to minimize community impacts resulting from the rail lines' presence. Rail traffic that crossed city streets at-grade frequently disrupted community travel and emergency services between Lebanon's northern and southern portions. The bridges were constructed to provide safety and noise improvements, and to reduce interactions between cars and trains. An anticipated lesser need for train whistles between the two proposed bridge locations accompanied this safety improvement, further enhancing the quality of life for city of Lebanon residents.
While the proposed bridges would provide many improvements to the city of Lebanon, PennDOT recognized that multiple single-family homes, apartments, and businesses would be displaced by the project, and that this would negatively impact the community. Accordingly, PennDOT and its partners organized a Community Design Task Force to gather public input and address concerns. As the city of Lebanon has many Spanish-speaking residents, PennDOT provided interpreters at public meetings and released press briefings and newsletters in Spanish. In reaching out to community members not traditionally included in the planning process, PennDOT and its partners were able to establish a collaborative environment and gain community support.
During preparations for the construction, PennDOT discovered that a portion of the project site had served as a cemetery in the 19th century, and archaeological investigations confirmed that not all of the graves had been relocated. An initiative was undertaken to move these graves in a respectful manner to the nearby Mount Lebanon Cemetery. PennDOT published notices in a local newspaper to provide an opportunity for any living descendants to come forward. Graves were covered during excavation, and the remains were each placed in donated wooden, period-style coffins, to be reinterred the same day. A final memorial service honored the deceased and symbolized the end of the process.
Throughout the COLBONS project, PennDOT, the city of Lebanon, FHWA, the Community Design Task Force, and others demonstrated a keen understanding of the importance of public participation and of quality of life efforts, both in honoring the past and supporting the future.
For more information, contact Mark Malhenzie, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation District 8-0, at email@example.com.