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New Cementon Bridge, I-78 repairs among PennDOT projects for 2023

Cementon Bridge
Tom Shortell
PennDOT officials expect to begin building the replacement to the Cementon Bridge in Spring 2023. The 90-year-old bridge carries Route 329 over the Lehigh River.

LEHIGHTON, Pa. — With springtime here,Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) construction season will be ramping up for road and bridge improvements across the Lehigh Valley and its neighboring counties.

PennDOT District 5 Executive Director Mike Rebert said the agency expects to begin more than a dozen new notable projects in Berks, Carbon, Lehigh, Monroe, Northampton and Schuylkill counties while wrapping up more than 20 others.

  • Inflation has caused new PennDOT construction costs to jump 20% year-over-year
  • Lehigh Valley projects slated to begin this year include replacing the Route 33 bridges over the Bushkill Creek and improvements to MacArthur Road in Whitehall Township
  • PennDOT expects to complete two Interstate 78 projects in Berks County worth over $300 million

Once completed, the 37 projects are expected to cost more than $700 million. The estimated price tag has climbed significantly due to inflation.
Rebert said PennDOT has had to factor in a 20% markup year-over-year due to inflation. However, PennDOT has not had to cancel or delay any projects because of the hikes.

"That's taken quite a bite out of our budget," Rebert said.

More than half of that money — approximately $362 million — is tied to Interstate 78 improvements, including the end of highway reconstruction between Lenhartsville in Berks County and the Lehigh County line. Crews are also expected to begin repaving the interstate, repairing bridges and improving drainage between Allentown and Upper Saucon Township for a total of about $19 million later this year.

Route 33 bridges

Another $21.7 million project will be replacing two bridges carrying Route 33 traffic over the Bushkill Creek between the Tatamy and Stockertown interchanges. The aquifer and geology makes it difficult to find solid rock capable of supporting the bridges in the area.

In 2004, PennDOT had to close the highway to northbound traffic for emergency repairs after one bridge sank six inches. This time around, PennDOT will be drilling more than 300 feet deep to find thick enough bedrock to support the bridge, adding a special grid to help anchor it and constructing injection wells to aid with ground water issues.

"All the brightest minds of bridge engineers tell me this is going to work like a charm," Rebert said.

Work on replacing the Cementon Bridge, a 90-year-old span that carries Route 329 traffic over the Lehigh River, is expected to begin in the next few weeks, Rebert said. A new bridge will be constructed immediately south of the existing bridge. Once that's complete, construction crews will realign the highway to the new bridge before they take apart the old one. The entire project is also expected to cost $21.7 million.

Other Lehigh Valley road improvements include:

  • Finishing pavement improvements to Route 22 between Wilson and Bethlehem Township and Route 33 between Palmer Township and Bethlehem Township — $16 million
  • Completing the roundabout at the intersection of Route 222, Route 863 and Schantz Road — $14.2 million
  • Upgrading intersections and traffic signals along Race Street in Catasauqua — $10.2 million
  • Improving traffic signals on MacArthur Road in Whitehall Township — $5.8 million
  • Milling and paving Route 873 in North Whitehall and Washington townships and Slatington — $4.2 million
  • Milling and paving Route 191 in Nazareth and Lower Nazareth Township — approximately $2.7 million

Route 611 work still stalled

Not included in the 37 projects are emergency repairs to Route 611 north of Portland, where a December rockslide forced PennDOT to close the highway. The road is an important artery for the Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area, and traffic normally picks up when the temperature rises.

Rebert said PennDOT is coordinating with the National Park Service and Federal Highway Administration to get permission to begin work. Crews will need to climb the rock face and pull down any loose rocks and debris before they begin to open even one lane up to traffic.

There is no timetable yet on work to begin, but PennDOT has about $3.5 million for the project.

"We know we need to try to get this roadway open quickly. It's a huge economic driver for Delaware Water Gap and Portland," Rebert said.