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Tri-city coalition of Lehigh Valley mayors forms to tackle problems together

Lehigh Valley mayors at tri-city coalition announcement
Tom Shortell
From left, Mayor Matt Tuerk of Allentown, Mayor J. William Reynolds of Bethlehem, and Mayor Sal Panto Jr. of Easton address a news conference Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023, at Bethlehem City Hall.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The mayors of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton unveiled plans for a tri-city coalition Thursday that they hope will produce solutions to some of the region's most pressing issues.

At a joint news conference at Bethlehem City Hall, Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk, Bethlehem Mayor J. William Reynolds and Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr. said they've been meeting informally the past few months to discuss challenges each of their cities face.

  • The mayors of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton announced the coalition
  • They aim to find solutions to their most pressing issues
  • Housing, homelessness and sustainability are first on the list

But they've decided to formally hold monthly meetings where elected officials and staff can share their insights and pool resources.
At least off the bat, the coalition will work to address housing, homelessness and sustainability, they said. They'll also use the meetings to compare and contrast their operations in hopes of finding ways to improve services for residents, the mayors said. One city, for example, may have had success tackling vandalism the others could welcome or have completed a study the other is interested in starting.

"We don't want Matt to be mayor of the Lehigh Valley or Willie to be mayor of the Valley. But we do want the Lehigh Valley to address the regional issues that we cannot do effectively and efficiently [on our own]."
Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr.

"The issues that we need to focus on as a region do not know any municipal boundaries," Reynolds said.

The intent isn't to merge the three cities or to take away local autonomy, Panto stressed. But by working collaboratively, they hope to find ways to strengthen the region.

"We don't want Matt to be mayor of the Lehigh Valley or Willie to be mayor of the Valley. But we do want the Lehigh Valley to address the regional issues that we cannot do effectively and efficiently [on our own]," Panto said.

Tuerk pointed to the cities' efforts to lobby state lawmakers for more tools to crack down on dirt bikes and ATVs illegally driving on city roads. The vehicles aren't allowed on city streets but had been creating unsafe roads, particularly in Allentown.

The effort paid off, he said. Pennsylvania passed a law allowing cities to seize and destroy these vehicles, which Tuerk said has discouraged violators. Their voices carry more weight in Harrisburg and Washington, he said, if they speak together.

"We know that this model works, and this now can allow us to tackle the bigger issues that we face," Tuerk said.

The three mayors don't intend to limit their advocacy to higher levels of government. Partnering with the private sector and other institutions such as the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission could produce results the government isn't well-equipped to handle.

A permanent institution

They pointed to the lack of housing in the region as an example. None of the cities has the space neighboring townships may have to build new units. But the ill effects of the housing shortage tend to affect their downtowns more, they said. And the region is so interconnected, a victory in one city will likely improve the situation for the others.

"If they're doing something in Allentown that creates housing in Allentown, that helps us in Bethlehem. If they do something in Easton to address homelessness, that helps us in Bethlehem," Reynolds said.

The mayors hope the initiative will outlast their own tenures and become a permanent institution. While their successors will be under no obligation to continue collaborating with the other cities, the mayors hoped the coalition will produce tangible results that will make it last.

"When something is done, and it's done well, there is a demand from citizens to continue it," Reynolds said.