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Packer Ave. 45-day closure detailed

Adrienne McNeil from Lehigh University described the upcoming temporary road closure for Packer Avenue at the Mayor’s South Side Task Force Feb. 25. Beginning March 9, Packer Avenue will be cut off from vehicular traffic by water barriers for 45 days between Webster Street and Vine Street said McNeil. She explained these can be quickly drained and moved aside to provide access for emergency vehicles.

Lehigh University and Bethlehem Parking Authority will be studying how the closure will effect traffic patterns around the target area. Included in the research are vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians. Since Lehigh owns the real estate on both sides of Packer Avenue, university officials are looking to create a safer, more pediatrician-friendly zone in that part of their campus. Nearby Asa Drive has already been closed due to construction of the new Health Science Technology Building.

“It’s just a study, they’re just collecting data right now,” said Stephanie Augello from the mayor’s office. Permanently closing the street or keeping it open to vehicles won’t be decided by council until “closer to the end of the year.”

Augello emphasized the importance of getting as many residents to participate as she passed out city marketing materials promoting the 2020 census.

“It’s 100 percent confidential,” reassured Augello of the data collected from the census. Bethlehem was underreported during the previous census, costing the city around $44 million in funding for infrastructure and programs, according to Augello.

State Rep. Steve Samuelson (D) said there will be free “Census Hubs” available for families who don’t own computers or smart phones to fill out online forms. These locations include Northampton Community College, both branches of the Bethlehem Public Library, and Samuelson’s office.

After highlighting areas of Gov. Wolf’s proposed state budget that boost funding for education, Samuelson reported there are two bills that have bipartisan support in the Pennsylvania House to end gerrymandering by establishing an independent redistricting commission. It is critical for it to pass this year, in order to be in sync with the 2020 census in establishing districts in 2021, he said.

Property tax and rent rebates applications for 2019 are now available to constituents Samuelson announced. He also distributed copies of the 2019-20 “Pennsylvania Grant & Resource Directory” to attendees.

Janine Santoro, representing the Bethlehem Area Public Library, introduced her colleague Elizabeth Saraceno to the group. They took turns calling attention to library programming for children and adults. These include story times and play dates for kids. For adults, there are workshops on conversational Spanish, ESL, Qigong (Chinese exercise), paper flower crafting, gardening basics, seed swap, and a monthly writing group.

Santoro said a used book sale is scheduled for April 21-23 and April 25 at the branch located at the corner of East Fourth and Webster streets.

She mentioned the Inaugural Lehigh Valley Book Festival will happen Marchy 28 at the Main Branch on Church Street.

“Steel Walker Tours” of Bethlehem Steel along the Hoover-Mason Trestle will be offered again at 11:30 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, beginning April 11 through Dec. 27, reported Susan Vitez from the Steelworkers’ Archive.

Captain Rich McGarr from the Lehigh University Police Dept. spoke about ongoing patrols around the off-campus student housing areas near the university.

“We direct them towards better behavior, before they get out of hand,” McGarr said. The university police work closely with city police in the program, which is funded by a state liquor control grant.

Chaired by Roger Hudak, the Mayor’s South Side Task Force meets regularly on the last Tuesday of the month at Northampton Community College’s East Third Street campus. The next meeting is scheduled for March 31.

press photos by ed courrierStephanie Augello from the mayor's office describes how the city will publicize the upcoming 2020 census. Susan Vitez from the Steelworkers' Archive sits at right. Copyright - &Copy; Ed Courrier