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Lehigh Valley Local News

$4.9 billion Long Range Transportation Plan adopted, outlining future of Lehigh Valley transit projects

Traffic in Lehigh Valley
Donna S. Fisher
For LehighValleyNews.com
Traffic at right moves north on Rt. 378 over the Hill to Hill Bridge, in Bethlehem, Pa. on February 9, 2023.

    BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Lehigh Valley Transportation Study has adopted its multi-billion dollar long-range transportation plan, providing an official roadmap to funding the next 25 years of projects throughout the Lehigh Valley.

    Lehigh Valley Planning Commission spokesman Matt Assad said the plan, which was approved Wednesday, next goes before federal highway officials for review.

    The plan reflects the major revision made last month in response to changes in funding forecasts.

    The new plan outlines $4,323,562,019 in regional funding, supplemented by a projected $525,583,765 in state and federal grant money and interstate system support.

    That brings the total funding projected to flow into the Lehigh Valley for transportation projects up to nearly $4.9 billion.

    Lehigh Valley Transportation Study is responsible for creating a long-range transportation plan to guide how the region’s share of federal and state transportation dollars are spent over the next 25 years.

    The panel consists of city and county officials in Lehigh and Northampton County alongside the state Transportation Department, Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority and Lehigh Valley Planning Commission representatives.

    All but one member of the panel, between the technical committee and coordinating committee that make up the study, voted to adopt the plan.

    Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure, who chairs the coordinating committee, voted no, saying it "continues to perpetuate the inequitable distribution of transportation funding within the Lehigh Valley."

    McClure said only 18% of funding would be directed toward projects located solely in Northampton County, which is an improvement from the 2019 plan, but continues to be significantly less than funding allocated to solely Lehigh County.

    In a release, McClure's office stated that "beginning with the 2019 LRTP [Long-Range Transportation Plan] update, Northampton County has proposed numerous projects that we feel are a high priority for PennDOT to address, but they have either been omitted from the plan or remain in the preliminary phase of design.

    "This disparity will likely continue or worsen as the $243 million '22 Tomorrow' study commences and more funding is allocated toward a proposed expansion of Route 22 in the Allentown area."

    Plan experiences decreases

    The plan originally was slated to oversee and map the allocation of a projected $5.36 billion over the next 25 years on nearly 500 road, bridge, trail, transit and community projects in Lehigh and Northampton counties after a survey, municipal review and public comment process concluded over the last year.

    Funding projections were given a sharp decrease of nearly a billion dollars of spending over the next four years during the revision process. Most of that difference — $598 million — comes from reductions to planned work on Interstate 78.

    According to LVTS officials, spending on interstate highways is controlled by the state Transportation Department, and recent updates to the state’s 12-year transportation plan triggered the changes to the Lehigh Valley's plan.

    The updated transportation plan also showed $333 million less short-range spending on projects funded through the Lehigh Valley Transportation Study’s allocation of state and federal transportation funding.

    Of that reduction, $122 million — less than half — reappeared as mid-range spending.

    Even without the decrease in funding, many desired projects were left on the cutting room floor, labeled as unmet needs due to a lack of funds.

    Those projects then would be priorities if more funds become available.

    The amount of funding "seems like a lot, but it's shockingly not," Lehigh Valley Executive Director Becky Bradley said in September.

    As a result of the reductions, more projects became unmet needs, such as improvements to I-78 that included safety improvements to a stretch near Allentown, maintenance to a bridge over Saucon Creek and two local roads in Bethlehem and rehabilitation of support structures for the arched bridge over Fish Hatchery Road and Little Lehigh Creek.

    The changes "should have no impact on the next four years' infrastructure," Lehigh Valley Transportation Study spokesman Matt Assad wrote in an email this month.

    Bradley in the past has emphasized the importance of planning for transportation projects, especially those that manage the projected growth of the Lehigh Valley during a planning meeting in September.

    "Our population growth is going to be about 14.4%," Bradley told the group. "I think the important takeaway here is that's equivalent to adding another city of Bethlehem and another city of Easton by 2050.

    "So where are all those folks gonna go? We have to think about that, and how are they going to get around as well."