Pittston Township, Luzerne County -- PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission held a news conference Thursday afternoon in Pittston Township to announce a major study of what's billed as the Scranton Beltway Project. The plan would use the Pennsylvania Turnpike as a bypass around heavily congested Interstate 81 between the Pittston and Clarks Summit areas. "Parts of 81 are currently very, very tough to get through. There's no question about it," said Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission CEO Mark Compton.
Roughly 60,000 drivers use the I-81 corridor between the Clarks Summit and Pittston areas each day. The similar stretch of the turnpike sees only about 20,000 drivers per day. Officials say the proposed bypass would send another 20,000 to 25,000 drivers onto the turnpike and create a fairly even traffic flow on both I-81 and I-476. "If you can improve the connections and balance that better, that makes sense," said PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch.
New connections would be needed between I-476 and 81 both north and south of Scranton to make the bypass work. "At this point we're really looking for the north-north connection and the south-south connection which would be considered the first phase of the project," said Mr. Compton. While a bypass would be progress toward highway traffic safety, it might also boost the NEPA economy by attracting more business with better highway access. "They're looking about moving their people and products if they see inadequate access, if they see congestion they're going to choose somewhere else. This is going to improve the competitiveness of this corridor," said Mr. Schoch.
Officials say the study which begins immediately will cost $500,000 and will take one year to complete. If approved, construction on the Scranton Beltway Project could begin within five years.