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I-80 over Lehigh River Bridge Project

Project Description

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 Bridge project is to address the deterioration of the aging bridge structures and thereby provide safe and structurally sufficient 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.

The I-80 over Lehigh River Bridge project is one of several projects being evaluated as a candidate for bridge tolling. A bridge toll is a fee that drivers pay when passing a specific location, often by using a service like E-ZPass. The funds received from the bridge toll will go back to the I-80 over Lehigh River Bridge project to pay for construction, maintenance and operation.

To comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the project is being advanced as Categorical Exclusion (CE) and impacts to natural, social, economic and cultural resources are being assessed.

As part of the environmental review process, PennDOT is analyzing how bridge tolling may impact local communities and how alternate routes to avoid the toll may impact local traffic and roadways. When environmental studies are completed in Spring 2021, PennDOT will present findings for public review and comment in a virtual meeting, or if safety precautions allow, an in-person public meeting. During the meeting, the Project Team will also share project details, such as engineering design, environmental impacts, construction schedule, maintenance and protection of traffic during construction and access to Lehigh Gorge State Park and boat launches in the park.

To stay informed or to be added to the project mailing list, please complete the form at the bottom of this page. You may also submit your comments and feedback by using this form.

PennDOT Pathways Major Bridge P3 Initiative

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On November 12, 2020, PennDOT received the Pennsylvania P3 Board's approval of the Major Bridge P3 Initiative, which allows the use of the P3 delivery model for bridges in need of replacement or rehabilitation, and to consider tolls at these locations. P3, which stands for Public-Private Partnership, is a cooperative arrangement between two or more public and private sectors that involves government and businesses working together to complete a project that will serve the public. PennDOT's P3 Office develops innovative project delivery and financing models for a wide array of initiatives that are designed to strengthen and improve the state's transportation network.

Through the P3 model, PennDOT can leverage private investment to rebuild critical bridges during a period with historically low interest rates and a favorable labor market. This initiative can provide a dedicated source of revenue for these infrastructure improvements and could create significant savings over the life of the program while ensuring the vitality of the state's transportation system and economy.

Bridge tolling can provide the funds to repair or replace these costly bridges without using PennDOT's current funding, which in turn allows those funds to be used for other roadway maintenance, operations, and improvements. Tolling would be all electronic and collected by using E-ZPass or license plate billing. The funds received from the toll would go back to the bridge where the toll is collected to pay for the construction, maintenance, and operation of that bridge.

The candidate bridges being considered for tolling through the Major Bridge P3 Initiative were selected based on the following criteria:

  • interstate location
  • structure of substantial size and cost to replace or rehabilitate
  • warrants timely attention
  • maintains geographic balance
  • does not impact just one region or corridor
  • ability to begin construction in 2-4 years for the near-term benefit

In the coming years, PennDOT will evaluate these candidate bridges through individual environmental documents being prepared or re-evaluated for each bridge. More information on each individual bridge project, and when the public will have an opportunity to engage on those projects, can be found at www.penndot.gov/funding.

To support PennDOT Pathways, an alternative funding Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) study is underway to identify near- and long-term funding solutions and establish a methodology for their evaluation. One of the early findings of the PEL study is that tolling of major bridges in need of replacement or rehabilitation appears to be a viable near-term solution. To advance this funding alternative, PennDOT is pursuing the first initiative of the PennDOT Pathways Program: the Major Bridge P3 Initiative.

PennDOT Pathways is a program to identify and implement alternative funding solutions for Pennsylvania's transportation network. As Pennsylvania's mobility needs have grown, the amount of funding required to support our highway and bridges has continued to increase. PennDOT's current highway and bridge budget is about $6.9 billion per year. Although that's a lot of money, it's less than half of the $15 billion needed to keep Pennsylvania's highways and bridges in a state of good repair and address major bottlenecks on our roadway network. Much of PennDOT's current funding comes from gas taxes and driver and vehicle fees. While this model worked well in the past, circumstances today have made it unsustainable. With PennDOT Pathways, we're looking for reliable, future-focused funding solutions that will meet our growing needs while serving our communities. The PennDOT Pathways PEL study will evaluate additional alternative funding solutions and will be available for public comment in the spring of 2021.

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