He said a new I-78 interchange would be built by the state and federal governments, at a cost of $25 million to $30 million. He said such a project would be well beyond the ability of the townships to finance.
Spokesmen for PennDOT and the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission said they have heard about the proposal for that I-78 interchange. Both raised a major barrier to such an interchange ever being built: no money.
PennDOT spokesman Ron Young said the state does not even have enough money to maintain its existing network of highways, bridges and interchanges, “let alone expanding that network. We have a backlog of state bridges that are structurally deficient. We would love to get those off that structural deficient list.”
LVPC executive director Michael Kaiser said he’s heard nothing about an Adams Road/I-78 interchange for several years. “There was no money for it at the time and there is no money for it now.” He said that project is not listed on either a four-year or long-range plan for transportation improvements needed in the Lehigh Valley.
Young said to qualify for state and federal funds, the proposed interchange would have to be listed on the Lehigh Valley Transportation Study’s plan of long-term projects. He said an alternative would be for the private sector for pay for such an interchange
Erdman realizes no funding may be available in the foreseeable future, but that could change 10 years from now.
He said similar preliminary joint traffic studies funded by the two townships and Lehigh County helped jump-start the creation of the Route 222 bypass. “PennDOT stepped in and said ‘we’ll do the design and construct it’.”
Erdman said no monumental problems are around the Hamilton Boulevard/I-78 interchange now “but we’re looking way down the road and saying: ‘What is the long term solution in this area?’”
He said the biggest problem at that interchange is “traffic weaving movements in short distances.”
He explained a truck heading toward Allentown on Route 222 quickly must weave to the right, where Route 222 merges with Hamilton Boulevard, to get onto eastbound I-78. And someone coming toward the city on Hamilton Boulevard may want to get in the left lane to enter Dorney Park beyond the I-78 interchange.
Erdman said Keystone’s traffic engineers have some ideas “of a couple of tweaks that might be done” to improve traffic flow in that area.
He explained if Lower Macungie does make improvements at I-78 and Hamilton Boulevard, it then can say to PennDOT: “We’ve looked at this. This is well beyond our capacity.”
After Erdman made a presentation about the future interchange to the Lower Macungie township commissioners’ planning committee on March 14, its two members – commissioners Douglas Brown and James Lancsek -- recommended all five commissioners approve doing the study Thursday night.
Erdman estimated the study will take three to six months to complete.
He assured the commissioners that Lower Macungie will not be obligated to spend millions of dollars to help pay for a new interchange on I-78 in Upper Macungie. He said the interchange would be a future PennDOT project.
Lower Macungie Resident Garrett Rhoads, who was at that committee meeting, was skeptical about a new intersection, saying truck drivers will take the shortest route if most are going east, as Erdman said they will. “I’m not going to go north and then west so I can proceed south and east,” said Rhoads.
But Alan Fornwalt of Keystone Engineering, who works with Erdman, said truck drivers will take the quickest route, even if it is longer. He said a new intersection will be less congested than Route 100. He also said not many more improvements can be made on that section of Route 100.
Erdman said the $10,000 to pay for the Lower Macungie study will come from traffic impact fees that have been collected from developers. He said the township has about $169,000 in that impact fee account.
He noted that $10,000 doesn’t include the cost of making any improvements “because we don’t even know what they are at this point.”