Proposal to rename Market Street Bridge causing controversy in Harrisburg

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Mike Regan was not expecting one of his first pieces of legislation as a state Senator to cause this much controversy.

Earlier this month, Regan, elected to his first term as a Senator representing parts of Cumberland and York Counties, wanted to honor former colleague and role model Harold Mowery, a former longtime state lawmaker who died in 2014. Regan introduced Senate Bill 265; the bill would rename half of the Market Street Bridge in Dauphin County the Senator Harold Mowery Market Street Bridge.

Regan saw it as a "good faith effort" to honor the man who served his Cumberland/York County seat from 1993-2004.

"He was a guy who was transcendent, and did so many great things for the community," Regan said. "We just thought it was a nice thing to do for him and his family."

Renaming the bridge, Regan thought, was a fitting tribute for a man who, in his 28 years as a state representative and Senator, was known for crossing the aisle to work with Democrats.

"Bridging the gap," Regan said.

The bill was introduced into the Senate Transportation Committee and breezed through with unanimous approval from Democrats and Republicans, 15-0.

Controversy arose, however, when Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse caught wind of the bill from a city engineer. Despite the bridge falling under the supervision of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and the half of the bridge proposed to get renamed falling outside the boundaries of the City of Harrisburg, Papenfuse hoped Regan would consult with the city before any potential name change.

"Around here, it's known as the Market Street Bridge, and is there a need to rename it?" Papenfuse asked. "Is there desire? I don't think so, not from city residents and not from the majority of people I've spoken to."

Papenfuse also argues renaming half a bridge would be confusing. Despite Sen. Regan offering to pay the estimated $500 for bridge signing, Papenfuse says Harrisburg has no desire to rename their half of the Market Street Bridge, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Only the eastern half of the bridge is on the National Register, and not the western half.

"And every future map is going to reflect two different names for a bridge? It's one bridge. Whatever. The point is the public should be consulted," Papenfuse said.

Ultimately, the City of Harrisburg has very little power in the future of the Market Street Bridge. If Regan's bill passes the Senate, then the House, and gets signed by Governor Wolf, the western portion of the bridge, despite it being in Dauphin County, will be named after the Cumberland County lawmaker.

"It's meeting in the middle," Regan said. "Which is what Senator Mowery did so masterfully."

Papenfuse responded, "This is the opposite of Senator Mowery's legacy. This is not working across the aisle to build consensus and compromise. This is somebody not from the City of Harrisburg saying to the residents, 'We're going to rename your bridge and there's nothing you can do about it.'"