|COMMISSION NEWS RELEASE|
|Pa. Turnpike Celebrates Opening of Four New Bridges on Northeastern Extension
$101.6 million improvement project on I-476 in Carbon County officially opens to traffic
|HARRISBURG, PA (11/04/2011)(readMedia)-- Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission Chief Executive Officer Roger Nutt today joined state legislators, civic and business leaders in cutting a ceremonial ribbon to formally mark the opening of new bridges above the Lehigh River and Pohopoco Creek on the Turnpike's Northeastern Extension (Interstate-476) in Carbon County.
The $101.6 million project - located just south of the Mahoning Valley Interchange (Exit No. 74) - was begun in January 2009. It involved replacement of two Northeastern Extension bridges with four new spans (northbound and southbound traffic is now carried on separate structures) that together equal about a mile of new bridge.
"The new bridges offer a safety enhancement over the previous structures because they feature wider shoulders to the left and right of the travel lanes," Nutt explained. "The shoulders provide Turnpike motorists a buffer zone in case of an accident or breakdown – something the old bridges lacked."
The original Lehigh River and Pohopoco Creek bridges - located two miles north of the Lehigh Tunnel between mileposts 73 and 75 - opened to traffic Nov. 7, 1957 and were nearing the end of their intended design life of 50 years. The new structures, erected parallel to and west of the originals, are designed for a much longer lifespan of 75 years or more. The old bridges had a narrow median and shoulders, while the new ones include a six-foot left shoulder and a 12-foot right shoulder.
In a ceremony held in the northbound lanes of the new Lehigh River Bridge, Nutt, along with State Sen. David G. Argall (R-29), State Sen. John T. Yudichak (D-14) and State Rep. Doyle Heffley (R-122), cut a ceremonial ribbon to celebrate the milestone. They were joined by other VIPs, including former Speaker of the Pa. House Keith McCall, county and municipal officials, and representatives of the construction and engineering firms involved in the job.
"For the past three years, this toll-funded construction project has helped provide economic stimulus for the region's workers and suppliers, directly employing as many as 250 men and women," Nutt said. "Today, as we celebrate completion of these impressive structures, we are thrilled to deliver a major infrastructure enhancement for all those who use this stretch of the Turnpike for business, personal and vacation travel."
Slightly more than 30,000 vehicles per day- or nearly 11 million cars and trucks a year, on average - travel over the bridges in an area of Northeastern Pa. that's often called the Gateway to the Poconos.
The Lehigh River and Pohopoco Creek project - part of the Turnpike's self-funded, 10-year capital plan to modernize more than 546 miles of toll highway under the commission's jurisdiction - also represents a county milestone.
"This is one of the most significant projects in Carbon County in years, both from a transportation-safety and an economic-development standpoint," said Carbon County Commission Chairman William J. O'Gurek. "This level of investment represents a shot in the arm for our economy, spurring spending by contractors for materials and equipment and by workers for meals, lodging and other living expenses."
Much of the construction materials used for the project were procured locally. In fact, Rock Hill Concrete Inc., Parryville, Pa., was the primary concrete supplier on the job, providing 36,000 cubic yards of concrete from a batch plant located directly below the work site. The family-owned firm, which operates seven concrete plants in the state, has been in operation for nearly 64 years and even provided concrete for the original bridges when the Northeastern Extension was being built in 1955-57.
During the ceremonies, Nutt also recognized the various other Pennsylvania firms involved in bringing the massive project to fruition. The Walsh Construction Group, Pittsburgh, was general contractor, Urban Engineers, Philadelphia, was construction manager and project design was performed by Modjeski & Masters Inc., Harrisburg, Pa. In addition, a range of subcontractors and specialty contractors also participated in the project.
The new twin bridges over the Lehigh River – and the historic Lehigh Canal that parallels its eastern bank – are 1,530-feet long and rise 75 feet over the river and canal. The new bridges over the Pohopoco Creek, located north of the Lehigh River span, are 1,020-feet long and rise 120-feet over the creek.
The project area encompasses the municipalities of East Penn and Mahoning townships as well as Parryville Borough. Under the staged construction schedule, the new southbound structures were opened to traffic about three months ago on Aug. 9, while the northbound bridges are set to open to Turnpike traffic on Nov. 5 by 6 a.m.
Even though all four new bridges are open to traffic, the project is still a year away from ultimate completion. After the final northbound traffic switch on Nov. 5, preparations will begin to remove the bridge decks that carried traffic over the waterways for nearly 54 years. Mechanical demolition (no blasting) of the two original bridges is expected to extend into mid-2012. Construction of wetlands, improvements to the multi-use trail along the Lehigh River and Canal and other aspects of the project will also continue through the completion date of Nov. 2, 2012.