PennDOT resumes environmental reviews for Bridge Projects: tolls now off the table

September 29, 2022 2:48 PM | Brandon Moree (Administrator)

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) announced that it has resumed planning work and federal environmental reviews for six bridge replacement projects proposed as part of the Major Bridge Public-Private Partnership (MBP3).

A Categorical Exclusion (CE) Reevaluation is being prepared for the I-78 Lenhartsville Bridge Replacement Project  and the I-80 Over Lehigh River Bridge Project to evaluate and document how the projects would affect the surrounding community’s quality of life, including health, safety, cultural resources, environmental resources and more. Approval of the CE Reevaluation is anticipated this fall (2022).

The I-78 Lenhartsville Bridge, which crosses Maiden Creek in Greenwich Township, is aging and does not meet current design standards. The proposed project involves replacing the existing bridge to address the poor structural condition, and to widen it to accommodate acceleration and deceleration lanes and full inside and outside shoulders in each direction. 

Through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) environmental review process, the I-78 Lenhartsville Bridge Replacement Project was approved as a CE in November 2019, and the project team was allowed to move forward with final design and right-of-way acquisition.

The I-80 Over Lehigh River Bridges, which cross over the Lehigh River, Lehigh Gorge State Park, Reading Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad and SR 1005 (River Road) in Carbon and Luzerne Counties, are aging and reaching the end of their serviceable lifespan. The proposed project will address the deterioration of the aging bridge structures and provide safe connectivity for interstate travelers, commuters, commercial users, emergency services, tourists and local residents.

In November 2020, the MBP3 was proposed by PennDOT and approved by the Pennsylvania P3 Board, which includes representatives from all four legislative caucuses, to rehabilitate or replace major Interstate bridges using toll revenues, providing PennDOT with a means of addressing the state's growing backlog of needs without using or impacting the funding for PennDOT's larger program. In February 2021, PennDOT announced nine candidate bridge projects, including the I-78 Lenhartsville Bridge Replacement Project, for inclusion in the program. 

An Environmental Assessment (EA) was prepared to study the potential impacts related to tolling and toll diversion in accordance with NEPA. The EA was made available for public comment on May 4, 2022. Comments received on the project’s EA in Spring 2022 were evaluated and considered in the development of the CE Reevaluation. Updated information on the project and potential impacts is available on the project website at www.penndot.pa.gov/i78Lenhartsville and at www.penndot.pa.gov/i80LehighRiverBridge. A comment form is available on the website.

In July 2022, the General Assembly amended the state’s P3 law to remove tolling as a means of funding the MBP3. This means PennDOT will have to reallocate currently programmed state funds and federal funds now available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which will result in the deferral or elimination of some projects in the 2023 12-Year Program (TYP).

PennDOT entered into a Pre-Development Agreement (PDA) with Bridging Pennsylvania Partners (BPP) to advance preliminary design work for the MBP3 bridges. The PDA will lead to separate contracts to finalize design, build, finance and maintain packages of bridges in the MBP3, including the I-80 Lenhartsville Bridge the I-80 Over Lehigh River Bridges. PennDOT will repay the amounts financed by the development entity through recurring availability payments over 30 years, beginning when construction is complete.



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