It takes Lehigh Valley residents an average of 25 minutes to get to work. There is little recurring congestion outside of the morning and afternoon rush hours in the Lehigh Valley. Our regional transportation network is complete and functions reasonably well in terms of ease, safety and convenience. The key question is: can it be sustained? Without a significant increase in capital funding, the answer is no. The lack of needed investment will result in a decline in the performance of our roads and bridges, meaning longer travel times due to congestion and detours.
The focus over the last four years in the Lehigh Valley (and across Pennsylvania) has been on maintenance, in particular bridge maintenance. Even with the many bridges repaired over the last four years, the list of bridges across the region that still need to be rehabilitated or replaced is long. Each year additional bridges come on the list. Meanwhile, highway ride quality has deteriorated over that same time frame with the investment focus on bridges. Numerous reports at both the Federal and State level document that transportation funding is very inadequate; prospects for increased investment in the near future are not good. In fact, the lack of transportation funding has been the determining factor in many of the investment decisions made in the last five years. Consider:
The Lehigh Valley Transportation Study (LVTS) long range plan
estimates a $1.7 billion shortfall for funding needed through 2030. The shortfall is 106% of the expected revenues over the same time frame.
The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission (LVPC) completed a study on Route 22 in 2001. The report recommended widening Route 22 to six or eight lanes, starting with the section from Airport Road to 15th Street. Due to a lack of funds, this project was scaled back to interchange improvements at MacArthur Road and Fullerton Avenue and replacing the bridge over the Lehigh River. While this may improve safety at the interchanges, the project will not address recurring congestion along this important employment corridor.
LVTS has identified the Route 22 corridor as its number one congestion priority. However, according to LVTS’ long range transportation plan findings, widening of the most important section of Route 22 cannot be completed over the next 18 years due to lack of funding. Meanwhile, the other 12 corridors identified in the plan as needing attention to relieve congestion will not be addressed over that time frame, again due to lack of funding.
From 2006 through 2010, the Lehigh Valley had an average of 61 fatalities a year and 166 major injuries on its roadways. This average has been declining - 51 fatalities occurred in 2010 compared to 81 in 2005, a 37% reduction. However, many safety issues remain. Addressing these issues would surely result in fewer fatalities and injuries. Funding for safety improvements needs to be increased.
Given the condition of the highway and bridge network, maintenance must continue to be the focus of investment. Without an increase in financial resources, other important areas such as safety and congestion reduction will remain unaddressed. Minor improvements can be made with funding that is available such as cutting back trees to improve sight distance and synchronizing traffic signals to improve traffic flow, but this approach will not be an adequate substitute to the improvements needed to keep the Lehigh Valley highway network running smoothly.