Recent funding legislation will significantly increase PennDOT projects in the Allentown area as discussed below, and statewide.
Funding puts PennDOT projects back in gear
By Dan Hartzell, Of The Morning Call
Plans for widening Route 22 through the heart of the Lehigh Valley and other long-term transportation projects are back in gear, regional planners said Monday, thanks to last year’s passage of a funding bill in Harrisburg. Widening 22 between 15th Street and Airport Road has been an on-again, off-again proposition for years, but the anticipated $2.3 billion in new annual state road funding by 2017 gives the project and smaller ones across the Valley renewed impetus. The latest Route 22 estimate puts its widening cost at $183 million.
New items on a local to-do list include resurfacing Route 33 between Interstate 78 and Wind Gap for $85 million; reconstructing the Route 309/Tilghman Street intersection for $48.5 million; rehabbing Bethlehem’s Hill-to-Hill Bridge for $38 million; and resurfacing Route 22 from 15th Street west to I-78, and from Route 191 east to the Easton area 25th Street exit. No start date has been established for any of the projects, which are expected to unfold over a 12-year period from 2015 to 2026.
“We’ll start to lay out the phasing of projects” in the months and years ahead, depending on the availability of funding, said Mike Rebert, district executive for PennDOT’s Allentown-based District 5. Projects selected for a 12-year plan are moved to four-year Transportation Improvement Programs, putting them closer to a start date. The TIPs are adjusted every other year as new information becomes available. More projects could be added to the hopper. A shortage of state money had put many programs on hold. No longer.
“This is the first time in I don’t know how many years that we’re able to talk about new projects” after a chronic shortage of new transportation revenue, said Larry Shifflet, of PennDOT’s central office in Harrisburg. “It allows us to advance things we’ve been planning for years,” Lehigh Valley Planning Commission Executive Director Becky Bradley said after Monday’s regional meeting.
After years of debate, a transportation funding bill passed the state House on Nov. 21. Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, was the only Lehigh Valley region House member to vote for it. Voting no were Democrats Daniel McNeill, Steve Samuelson and Robert Freeman, and Republicans Justin Simmons, Ryan Mackenzie, Julie Harhart, Gary Day, Marcia M. Hahn and Joe Emrick. The measure had passed the Senate the previous day, with Sens. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, and Bob Mensch, R-Berks, voting in favor, and Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, voting no. Gov. Tom Corbett signed it into law, providing billions in extra transportation spending through an increase in a per-gallon gasoline tax and other fee increases. Experts say pump prices could climb 28 cents by 2018 under the law. Foes expressed concern about that and about effects on consumers and the economy.
Some members of the Lehigh Valley Transportation Study — primarily municipal officials who advise PennDOT on roadwork needs within their municipalities to help the state prioritize the work — initially were reluctant to vote to approve the preliminary 12-year list out of concern their projects might be passed over. Rebert assured them PennDOT officials in Harrisburg hope to secure general approvals of “the direction we’re going” at the regional level to keep plans advancing. Though details may change as the years progress, state officials are confident that projects on the TIPs list will go forward.