I-80 Over Lehigh River Bridge Project
In July 2022, the General Assembly amended the state's P3 law to remove tolling as a means of funding the MBP3. As a result, PennDOT is moving the I-80 Over Lehigh River Bridge Project forward, but without tolling. A Categorical Exclusion (CE) was prepared by PennDOT and approved by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The approved CE evaluated and documented how the project build alternative without tolling would affect the surrounding community and environment.
See the Approved CE (PDF)
The I-80 bridges over the Lehigh River are eastbound/westbound structures built in 1965 and approaching the end of their serviceable lifespans. These bridges cross over the Lehigh River, Lehigh Gorge State Park, Reading Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad and SR 1005 (River Road) in Carbon and Luzerne Counties. Combined, the bridges carry an average of 27,400 vehicles per day, about 44 percent of which is truck traffic.
The purpose of the I-80 Over Lehigh River Bridges project is to address the deterioration of the aging bridge structures and provide safe and reliable bridges that will provide connectivity for interstate travelers, commuters, commercial users, emergency services, tourists, and local residents. The project will replace the aging bridges with wider structures; increase the length of the eastbound on-ramp auxiliary lane, the height of the bridges' barriers, and the width of the shoulders to meet current interstate design standards; and improve safety in the corridor.
Project History & Funding
In February 2021, the project was selected as a candidate for bridge tolling under the Major Bridge Public-Private Partnership (MBP3) and the project team began to study the project's potential impacts, including those related to tolling and toll diversion, in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). An Environmental Assessment (EA) was prepared and made available for public comment on May 3, 2022. In July 2022, the General Assembly amended the state's P3 law to remove tolling as a means of funding the MBP3. As a result, PennDOT is moving the I-80 Over Lehigh River Bridge Project forward, but without tolling.
A Categorical Exclusion was completed for the I-80 Over Lehigh River Bridge project to evaluate and document the effects of the build alternative with tolling removed. Since tolling will not be initiated, diversion of traffic onto local roads to avoid the tolls will not occur. Therefore, the proposed improvements along the diversion routes will no longer be included in the project.
All comments received on the project's EA in Spring 2022 that were unrelated to tolling and toll diversion impacts were evaluated and considered in the development of the CE, which was approved by FHWA in October 2022.
The MBP3 program was established to accelerate the replacement and rehabilitation of major Interstate bridges. Under MBP3, PennDOT entered into a Pre-Development Agreement (PDA) with
Bridging Pennsylvania Partners (BPP) to advance preliminary design work. The PDA will lead to separate contracts to finalize design, build, finance and maintain packages of bridges in the MBP3, including the I-80 bridges over Lehigh River. PennDOT will repay the amounts financed by the development entity through recurring availability payments over 35 years, beginning when construction is complete.
Without the funds that would have come from tolling the MBP3 bridges, other sources of funds will be necessary to complete the projects as the bridges are a critical part of the state's interstate system. This means PennDOT will have to reallocate currently programmed state funds and federal funds now available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which will result in the deferral or elimination of some projects in the 2023 12-Year Program (TYP).
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