PITTSTON — A proposed beltway project may ease congestion on a dicey stretch of Interstate 81.
“You’re almost taking your life in your hands,” said state Sen. John Blake, D-Archbald. “It’s a very dangerous corridor.”
Officials from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission announced during a news conference Thursday a joint study to determine the potential benefits of using a section of Interstate 476 as a bypass around Scranton.
According to a news release, the study will investigate possible connections between the two highways south of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport and north of the Scranton city limits.
Blake said the bypass would redirect between 20,000 and 25,000 vehicles per day from traffic-saturated I-81, to an underused part of the turnpike’s Northeast Extension. His estimates align with those from a graphic distributed at the event; however, the news release supposes a more modest congestion reduction of just 14,000 cars per day.
State Rep. Mike Carroll, D-Avoca, called the Luzerne-Lackawanna corridor of I-81 “strained,” and said the proposed beltway is a “significant and important project.”
He said the study will be “an examination of the assets that exist.”
State Secretary of Transportation Barry Schoch said updates to the area’s transportation infrastructure are long overdue.
Early planning revolved around rebuilding the Northeast Extension, he said, but the beltway project emerged as a more cost-efficient alternative.
“No matter what we do financially, we’ll never have enough money to do everything we want to do,” Schoch said. “Conceptually, we think this can work.”
The idea was born out of a change in perspective, he said, when PennDOT and the PTC started looking at the highways as two parts of the same network instead of separate entities.
“If you’re just a driver and forget about who owns which, it makes sense.” he said. “Doesn’t it?”
Schoch said more convenient connections between the two will attract new ridership to the turnpike. It would promote use of infrastructure bearing resemblance to use in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, where, he said, drivers routinely use toll roads for stretches of their commutes.
The one-year study — conducted by the Baker and the McCormick Taylor engineering firms— will cost about $500,000, he said, and will be funded by PennDOT and the PTC.
In the future, the departments may share construction costs as well, as an investment in one highway would benefit the other, Schoch added.
He said the study should start this month.
Turnpike CEO Mark Compton said the beltway project is part of the “Mapping the Future” program, which started three years ago.
The project, he said, will advance the partnership between the turnpike and PennDOT.
Nearly every speaker credited Gov. Tom Corbett signing Act 89 into law with providing the necessary resources to move forward with the proposed beltway project and others around the state.