— Dustin Lutz, Hellertown
A: Good point, Dustin. The websites dedicated to individual road-construction projects can help road warriors understand why improvements are being made and how changes being implemented might affect their travels after the work is completed.
PennDOT spokesman Steve Chizmar said that often, PennDOT includes website creation in the bid specifications for roadwork contracts, and contractors, or consultants hired by them, create the sites, with information supplied by PennDOT officials.
Unfortunately, neither the state nor the contractor plans to put up a dedicated site for the Route 412 interchange reconstruction, according to PennDOT spokesman Ron Young. However, your local Hellertown officials have seen fit to include regular project updates on the borough's website. Good for them. Though the information provided isn't nearly as exotic as the PennDOT-sponsored sites with their colorful maps and graphics, the borough's updates help keep motorists apprised of what's going on, at least in text form.
In the view through PennDOT's windshield, the 412 work is unlikely to have significant traffic impact, Young said, in part because the on- and off-ramps are widely separated, and they're longer and easier to navigate, minimizing any conflicts with I-78 traffic. The average daily traffic volume on Route 412 (about 21,000 vehicles) and 78 (59,000) is much lower than the counts on MacArthur (38,000) and 22 (87,000), Young said.
From what I gather from Young, the involvement of Route 22, the most heavily traveled road in the Lehigh Valley, and the direct traffic impact of the MacArthur work on the nearby shopping malls, place that project in the no-brainer category for creating a dedicated website.
Still, it seems like a bit of a cop-out to leave the 412 job off the website list. Much traffic related to the 78 west off-ramp interchange alone has come screeching into my email garage over the years, to the point where it's been the subject of three columns. The traffic demands posed by Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem alone make a pretty compelling case for public interest in the three-year 412 project.
Young said different factors are considered to determine whether to create individual project websites, including traffic volume, impact on traffic flow as well as on residents and business owners, and the size, complexity and cost of the project. The 412 interchange improvements, along with the widening of the road between Cherry Avenue in Hellertown and Daly Avenue in Bethlehem with the addition of vital turning lanes at the intersections and related work, is pegged at $36 million, making the MacArthur interchange's $13.8 million sticker price seem subcompact by comparison. The MacArthur work includes a new bridge over 22 and completely new access ramps that eliminate the dangerous merge points beneath the bridge — though they also create traffic-flow challenges.
PennDOT spokesman Steve Chizmar said project websites are used in other districts, with projects selected based on the same parameters described by Young for Allentown-based District 5.
"It's a smart tool," Chizmar said, "but it's not applicable to all projects," with cost being a factor.
Young said the MacArthur site was created by McTish, Kunkel & Associates and was budgeted at $15,000. McTish was hired by the general contractor, HRI Inc. of State College, he said. Website updates are planned as needed, based on traffic changes as the work progresses, Young said.
I'm no website expert, but I think the MacArthur site at 145-22int.com is an upscale model with a good project overview and timeline and a straightforward "frequently asked questions" feature. Links to the traffic cameras on PennDOTs website are convenient, and a link is provided to a companion site, 22lv.com, with some background on how the project developed. The photo gallery's a bit of a flat tire, but why get picky?
Project websites in our region date to the Route 22 Renew project of 1998-99, Young said — the dirt-road days by Internet standards. The Route 222 Bypass, the final section of which opened in September 2007, featured an excellent site, and the ongoing Marshalls Creek Bypass project in Monroe County enjoys a dedicated site at marshallscreektrafficrelief.com.
Though PennDOT left Route 412 by the roadside, a dedicated site is planned for the Route 22 Fullerton Avenue interchange reconstruction set for 2014-15, immediately after MacArthur is completed, Young said. The Fullerton job includes the rehabilitation of the Lehigh River Bridge.
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