— Niklas Enblom, Emmaus
A: Upper Macungie Township officials must have been reading your mind, Niklas.
A few weeks ago, they attended a meeting of the committee that helps PennDOT decide how best to spend its road-construction money in Lehigh and Northampton counties. Adding turn lanes on eastbound Industrial Boulevard at Route 100 was among their proposals, and they also lobbied for improvements at Route 100 and Schantz Road just to the north.
Township traffic engineer Scott Stenroos of Keystone Consulting Engineers said one of the biggest problems on the eastbound leg of Industrial stems from the fact that the right-turn lane, only 133 feet in length, is critically short. Two tractor-trailers in the left-or-through lane, or even one big-rig and one car, block access to the right-turn lane, trapping motorists headed there, needlessly adding to the queue on Industrial. Though I-78 to the north is the biggest draw, there's quite a bit of traffic headed right, or south, to the Route 222 Bypass and other destinations, Stenroos said.
The township, with support from Lehigh County officials in part because of the planned addition of the Ocean Spray fruit-drink plant and other economic development anticipated in the area, is pushing for a new right-turn lane, and a new through lane, for eastbound Industrial to Route 100.
The new right-turn lane would be longer, putting the brakes on the blockage problem; the through lane would line up more precisely with its complementary entry lane on the other side of 100, and best of all, two dedicated left-turn lanes would help get those mammoth tractor-trailers off Industrial Boulevard and on their way to 78 much more efficiently.
The estimated sticker price for all this is $726,000 — a subcompact model in the realm of roadwork. Unfortunately, there's a roadblock, and it's a familiar one.
"The problem is, there's no funding," said Mike Kaiser of the Lehigh Valley Transportation Study, the funding-advisory panel to which township officials are appealing. "There's not a lot we can do about this because of the lack of funding."
We've been over this road so many times, the scenery has become truly depressing. Officials in Washington and in Harrisburg have been driving in circles for years in search of new transportation funding, but everyone's afraid of raising taxes (particularly the prime suspects, gasoline taxes), motor fees, or pretty much anything else. The result has been gridlock, both figuratively and, at Industrial and 100, literally.
Stenroos also made a pitch for further improvements to the juncture of Schantz Road and Route 100, where problems are creeping back in after work done just a few years ago, and the pace is expected to accelerate with more development anticipated nearby, including the planned Ocean Spray fruit-juice plant. On southbound 100 at the intersection, the township is asking for a new right-turn lane, and another southbound through lane, resulting in three southbound lanes and one right-turn lane onto Schantz. Because of the proximity of utility lines, railroad tracks and other complications, that work would throw taxpayers into reverse by about $3 million, according to Stenroos' estimate.
He mentioned one other thing that's been on my wish-list for many miles: Extending the lane of 78 east from the Route 100 north ramp to the Route 22 split, eliminating a dangerous merge point. Township officials didn't specifically ask for funding for that improvement, but Stenroos said it likely will have to be done eventually. It should have been done decades ago, when I-78 was built.
Back to the main road, Niklas, there's no estimated time-frame for the Industrial Boulevard improvements; in fact, currently there's no plan to actually make them. It could take years to get the project listed for funding on PennDOT's Transportation Improvement Program, and years more for it to happen. But with public officials hitching their trailer to your recommendation, it might happen eventually.
Road Service: PennDOT officials previously said that, while some temporary lane closures would be required, four lanes of traffic would be maintained most of the time during the renovation of MacArthur Road between Mechanicsville Road and Municipal Drive, and during the reconstruction of the MacArthur Road interchange of Route 22, both in Whitehall Township. As motorists may have noticed since the Mechanicsville-area work began on Feb. 13, that wasn't entirely accurate. To clarify: According to the construction contracts, on the Mechanicsville stretch, traffic can be restricted to one lane between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., and between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weekdays, and between 7 p.m. and 10 a.m. on weekends. At the interchange, a two-year job expected to begin next month, single-lane traffic will be allowed on both 22 and MacArthur between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. daily (with further restrictions on lane closures in effect during holiday periods and Musikfest). In addition, traffic "stoppages" — all traffic halted, a total shutdown — will be allowed for 15 minutes per hour between midnight and 5 a.m. daily for specified purposes, such as removing and installing bridge support beams.
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