The Morning Call (Sunday)

2021 should deliver smoother rides

PennDOT focuses on several paving projects in the Lehigh Valley

- By Tom Shortell

Lehigh Valley motorists should get used to the smell of tar and macadam in 2021 as some of the busiest stretches of highway in the region will be repaved.

After a funding crisis delayed or scrapped some of the Lehigh

Valley’s most ambitious projects, PennDOT will take a more meat-and-potatoes approach to maintainin­g the region’s transporta­tion infrastruc­ture in the new year. Ambitious projects like widening Route 22 have been put on indefinite hold in favor of preserving the highways as they currently exist, said Chris Kufro, acting executive director of PennDOT District 5. He compared the situation to a cash-strapped motorist opting to repair an old car instead of paying for a new vehicle.

“The major reconstruc­tion is on the shelf right now. This is just the cycle of paving. Even if we were doing that, we would still have to get this out of the way,” he said.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Transporta­tion mandated that Pennsylvan­ia shift more money to maintainin­g its interstate system. The decision pulled $380 million away from local projects over the next 12 years. While interstate­s are the lifeblood of most economic centers, the switch particular­ly hurt the

Lehigh Valley, where Interstate 78 has less traffic than Route 22 and Route 33.

In the near term, though, drivers should experience a smoother ride on some of the Valley’s main thoroughfa­res. Documents show this year PennDOT intends to spend:

$15.3 million repaving 7.7 miles of Route 22; most of it will go toward improving the highway between I-78 and MacArthur Road.

$5.3 million repaving Route 33 between Tatamy and Route 22.

$4.7 million resurfacin­g MacArthur Road between the Lehigh Valley Mall and Route 329.

“I’m glad to see it happening,” Whitehall Township Mayor Mike Harakal said. “It could create some problems, some impediment­s, but as they say, a short-term inconvenie­nce is worth a long-term benefit.”

Kufro was optimistic the constructi­on won’t snarl traffic to a halt. Due to the high volumes on the roads getting resurfaced, constructi­on crews will work overnight to minimize congestion.

“They need to pull their restrictiv­e patterns off, usually by 5 or 6 a.m. They want to be out of the way by the morning rush hour,” Kufro said.

Race Street, which has had heavier traffic since FedEx Ground opened its warehouse in Allen Township, will also get some tender loving care. The road will be repaved between Airport Road and First Avenue in Whitehall Township.

Some of Race Street’s intersecti­ons in Catasauqua will also get some TLC. Front Street and Second Street will be converted to two-way roads, and traffic signals will be added at their corners with Race.

Turn lanes will be added to the corner of Race and Lehigh Street as well.

Route 512 in the Slate Belt is also due for improvemen­ts. More than five miles of the highway will be getting much-needed repaving between downtown Bangor and Route 611.

PennDOT also hopes to wrap up work on the Tilghman Street Bridge in Allentown.

The rehabilita­tion project has encountere­d a series of setbacks from the start as sub-zero temperatur­es delayed constructi­on beginning in the winter of 2018.

Constructi­on crews found the substructu­re in worse shape than previously thought, and the coronaviru­s halted work for several weeks this summer. Still, Kufro hoped work on the bridge should wrap up around Labor Day.

The overall project cost has ballooned to $24.6 million, according to PennDOT documents, $2.7 million more than

originally projected.

The 91-year-old span has been in rough shape for years. City officials recognized losing the span for so long has been a strain on residents and commuters and are eager to see the work completed.

“It has been a long time coming,” said city spokespers­on Mike Moore.

“I was present at a news conference then-Gov. Ed Rendell held underneath the bridge to promote the need for bridge rehabilita­tion funds. That is at least 10 years ago. Allentown residents will be very happy to know that the end is in sight and a major east-west artery will be available again soon.”

One project that won’t be

getting underway is the replacemen­t of the Cementon Bridge between Northampto­n and Whitehall Township. The bridge carries Route 329 over the Lehigh River, and plans have called for building a new bridge alongside the existing one before shifting traffic onto the new span.

However, delays with the project mean work won’t get underway there until late 2022 or even 2023, Kufro said. PennDOTini­tially projected the work would cost $17 million and finish by the summer of 2023.

 ?? PHOTOS BYJANETHER­ESE/SPECIALTOT­HE MORNING CALL ?? West on MacArthur Road toward Grape Street in Allentown on Dec. 24. PennDOT will begin paving in 2021 from Grape Street north to Route 329.
PHOTOS BYJANETHER­ESE/SPECIALTOT­HE MORNING CALL West on MacArthur Road toward Grape Street in Allentown on Dec. 24. PennDOT will begin paving in 2021 from Grape Street north to Route 329.
 ??  ?? Tilghman Street Bridge in Allentown on Dec. 24. Work on the span should be completed in the later half of 2021.
Tilghman Street Bridge in Allentown on Dec. 24. Work on the span should be completed in the later half of 2021.

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