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I-80 Over Lehigh River Bridge Project Categorical Exclution Reevaluation

I-80 Over Lehigh River Bridge Project

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Project Overview

Study Area Map

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.

Purpose & Need

The proposed project would address the deterioration of the aging bridge structures and provide safe connectivity for interstate travelers, commuters, commercial users, emergency services, tourists, and local residents.

We've identified needs this project is intended to address:

The bridges' aging structure

The existing I-80 dual bridges are more than 50 years old and are reaching the end of their serviceable lifespan.

Vital connection in the area

I-80 provides a critical link in the Interstate commerce system, and as such is vital to efficient movement of goods and people. Further deterioration of the Lehigh River Bridges could cause the bridges to be load posted.

Project Design

The replacement I-80 Lehigh River Bridges would span across the valley with structures having anticipated lengths of 850 feet (eastbound) and 770 feet (westbound). Several structure options were examined with consideration of cost, constructability, and future maintenance. It was found that girder structures would be the most cost-effective option for the bridge design.

To allow maintenance of traffic during construction, the new eastbound bridge will be built just south of the existing eastbound bridge. The new westbound bridge will be built on the existing westbound alignment. The acceleration lane for the eastbound on-ramp from SR 940 will be extended across the new eastbound bridge.

You can see the recommended project design below.

i-80 over lehigh river bridge project design plan map
Click to view design plan map larger.

Environmental Studies

Categorical Exclusion

A Categorical Exclusion (CE) documents how a project would affect the surrounding community's quality of life, including health, safety, cultural resources and more.

In February 2021, the project was selected as a candidate for bridge tolling under the Major Bridge Public-Private Partnership (MBP3) and an Environmental Assessment (EA) was prepared to study the potential impacts related to tolling and toll diversion in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The EA was 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 CE is being 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. Approval of the CE is anticipated this fall (2022).

Parks and Recreational Areas

The dual bridges carry I-80 over the Lehigh River, Lehigh Gorge State Park and Trail, Reading Blue Mountain & Northern Railroad, and River Road in White Oaven Borough, Luzerne County, and East Side Borough and Kidder Township, Carbon County. Required Right-of-Way, Aerial Easements, Slope Easement, and Temporary Construction Easements are necessary for the project, including approximately six acres from Lehigh Gorge State Park.

Construction of the I-80 bridges is expected to take approximately four years to complete, estimated to begin in 2023. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) has broken ground on a capital improvements project in Lehigh Gorge State Park that is planned to be completed in 2022. Anticipated temporary impacts to Lehigh Gorge State Park property and the Lehigh River Water Trail are summarized below.

Lehigh Gorge Trail:

  • April through October: Overnight trail closures are anticipated. Short-term trail closures are anticipated during daylight hours Monday through Friday using flggers and advance signage.
  • November through March: Long-term trail closures in the vicinity of the bridges are anticipated.

Lehigh Gorge State Park driveway and parking:

  • The driveway and parking will be closed from the White Haven Shopping Center to the future park facilities south of the bridges.
  • The future park entrance south of the bridges will remain open during construction, including the overflow parking area and a portion of the parking along the driveway.

Boat launches:

  • The boat launch directly under the bridges will be closed during construction.
  • The three future boat launches being constructed downstream of the bridge will remain open during construction.

Lehigh River Water Trail:

  • Temporary causeways will extend from both riverbanks but will not completely block the river.
  • An Aids to Navigation Plan will be implemented to ensure safe passage for boaters through the construction area and will include advance signing.

PennDOT will also provide replacement land as part of mitigation for Required Right-of-Way, Aerial Easement, Slope Easement, and Temporary Construction Easements within Lehigh Gorge State Park.

The majority of Lehigh Gorge State Park will remain open during bridge construction, and access to the boat launches and Lehigh River will be maintained. The contractor will restore disturbed areas, and full access to park amenities will be provided upon completion. The project will not adversely impact the recreational functions of the resources.

Lehigh River

As mentioned in the section above, a portion of the Lehigh River is within the project area. This area of the river is navigable waters and coordination with United States Coast Guard (USCG) was undertaken. The Lehigh River is a designated scenic river in Pennsylvania. In addition to the project utilizing robust Erosion and Sedimentation Control plans and developing an approved Aids to Navigation Plan to accommodate recreational use of the waterway during construction, the following mitigation measures will be implemented:

  • Vegetative buffers will be provided to the extent practicable to screen construction and demolition staging areas.
  • The existing steel bridges are being removed. Steel girders, if used on the new bridge, will be weathering steel or painted a natural color to blend with the setting.
  • Where possible, the contract will require riprap to be covered with soil and vegetation.
  • The contract will require native vegetation to be used in the disturbed riverbank areas. PennDOT will continue to coordinate with DCNR regarding the project plantings.
  • The contract will require the scenic river signs at the leading ends of each bridge. The contract will require signage on the bridge for water trail users.
  • Temporary impacts to the Lehigh Gorge Trail under the bridge for pedestrian/bike traffic are being coordinated with DCNR.

Section 4(f) and Section 6(f) Resources

The project bridges span a valley that includes numerous resources protected under Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966. Section 4(f), abbreviated here for simplicity, specifies that the Secretary of Transportation may approve a transportation project requiring the use of publicly owned land of a public park, recreation area, or wildlife or waterfowl refuge, or land of an historic site only if there is no prudent and feasible alternative and the project includes all possible planning to minimize harm resulting from the use, or the use is de minimis.

Section 4(f) Resource 4(f) Criteria Additional Information
Lehigh Gorge State Park and Lehigh Gorge Trail (also Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor) Publicly Owned Park/Recreational Land PA DCNR; also Outstanding Scenic Geologic Feature of PA
Lehigh Park Publicly Owned Park/Recreational Land White Haven Borough
Lehigh River Water Trail Publicly Owned Park/Recreational Land Recreational river and PA Scenic Rivers System (scenic designation)
Lehigh Valley Railroad/Reading Railroad Historic Resource National Register of Historic Places Eligible

Of these Section 4(f) resources, only Lehigh Gorge State Park and Trail and the Lehigh River Water Trail will be used by the project. Anticipated impacts to these resources were discussed previously under Parks & Recreational Areas. Mitigation measures will include:

  • Advance notice of trail closures will be provided to DCNR, the Borough of White Haven, and the public.
  • The contractor may temporarily realign the trail through the project site if approved by DCNR. A 10' wide trail will be maintained.
  • If necessary due to pier locations, reconfiguration of the driveway, parking or boat launches will be coordinated with DCNR.
  • An Aids to Navigation Plan will be implemented and will include advance signing. Signs will be placed at boat launches upstream of the project. Additional advanced notification to DCNR and the public will be provided.
  • The contractor will restore disturbed areas, and full access to the park amenities will be provided upon completion.

Lehigh Gorge State Park is also protected under Section 6(f) of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Act of 1965. The LWCF Act created the LWCF State Assistance Program to assist in preserving, developing, and assuring all citizens of the United States the availability of outdoor recreation resources. The program provides matching grants up to 50 percent to states and through states to local governments for acquisition and development of public outdoor recreation sites and facilities. The Act contains mandatory provisions to protect property acquired or developed with assistance of the LWCF. The National Park Service (NPS) is the federal agency responsible for administering the LWCF. DCNR has confirmed that LWCF funds were used to purchase land for the Lehigh Gorge State Park. As such, any land necessary to be acquired for construction of the project would be considered a conversion from public outdoor recreation use to transportation use. A temporary construction easement occupied longer than 180 days is considered a permanent conversion requiring replacement of property.

PennDOT will provide replacement land for the Section 6(f) conversion (Required Right-of-Way, and Temporary Construction Easements) and has coordinated with DCNR and the NPS to identify suitable property.

Wetland and Waterways Impacts and Mitigation

Wetland and waterways impacts were studied as a part of the environmental studies for the project. Ten stream channels, totaling approximately four acres (4,665 linear feet), and eight wetland areas, totaling approximately one acre, were identified within the project study area.

Streams, Rivers & Water Courses Impacts
Permanent 79 Linear Feet
Temporary 578 Linear Feet

It is anticipated that 0.11 acre of permanent wetland impacts would occur.

The wetlands within the project area are associated with the Lehigh River, a naturally reproducing trout water and Scenic River, and therefore are given an Exceptional Value (EV) designation. Mitigation details will be determined in the Final Design phase of the project.

Section 106

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires identification of, and assessment of effects on, historic properties and archaeological sites listed on, or eligible for listing on, the National Register of Historic Places (NROP). Consultation with persons interested in the historic and archaeological properties/sites is integral to the Section 106 process and the project's public involvement. The Section 106 process includes identifying an Area of Potential Effect (APE) for the project, and inviting property owners within that APE, as well as historical societies and others to participate in the Section 106 process as Consulting Parties. Separate APEs are established for the archaeological investigations and for above-ground historical properties or resources.

Through the assessment, it was determined that the project would have no effect on historic or archaeological properties.

Waste Studies

Phase I, II and III Environmental Site Assessments (ESA) were conducted for the project study area. This included record reviews, interviews, site reconnaissance, compilation of data, data evaluation, geophysical surveys, soil borings and sampling, and recommendations.

In Final Design, a Soil Management Plan (SMP) will be prepared to manage, reuse, and cap the historic fill from the former landfill area and former railroad within the project Right-of-Way, or dispose of such materials appropriately.

Right-of-Way Acquisition

Where the project requires acquisition of right of way, property will be purchased in accordance with the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970.

Environmental Justice

Executive Order 12898, Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority and Low-Income Populations (February 11, 1994), directs federal agencies to identify and address, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of programs, policies and activities on minority and low-income populations.

  • Low-income is defined as a person whose median household income is at or below the Department of Health and Human Services federal poverty guidelines ($26,500 for a household of four).
  • Minority is a person who is: (1) Black (2) Hispanic or Latino (3) Asian American (4) American Indian and Alaskan Native, or (5) Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander.

While there may be low income and minority populations living in the general project area, the project involves replacing an existing bridge and improvements to the existing roadway. The end result will be an improved roadway for all to use. There will be no disproportionately high and adverse effects on low income and minority populations.