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PA Turnpike reveals plans for widening Northeast Extension in the Lehigh Valley. Here are 5 things to know.

Joe Roman of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission shows Horace Hendricks and Peter Kijak Sr. the location of Hendricks' home in Emmaus relative to the Turnpike expansion plan during an open house about the plan Thursday, May 23, 2024,  at Emmaus High School. (David Garrett/Special to 첥Ƶ)
Joe Roman of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission shows Horace Hendricks and Peter Kijak Sr. the location of Hendricks’ home in Emmaus relative to the Turnpike expansion plan during an open house about the plan Thursday, May 23, 2024, at Emmaus High School. (David Garrett/Special to 첥Ƶ)
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As the widening of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Northeast Extension from four to six lanes works its way north from the Philadelphia area, Lehigh Valley residents are getting a glimpse of plans for the first section of the highway to be expanded locally.

Officials from the turnpike commission were at Emmaus High School on Thursday evening to present the plans and answer questions. Several dozen people crowded into the cafeteria to study a series of maps and charts showing details of the widened highway and neighboring properties.

The section being presented stretches from mile marker 48 in Lower Milford Township to mile marker 53 in Lower Macungie Township, crossing through Upper Milford Township and Emmaus. The project is estimated to cost $332 million.

Construction is expected to begin in 2028.

Eventually, the Northeast Extension — also known as Interstate 476 — will be six lanes from its interchange with the mainline turnpike at Plymouth Meeting, Montgomery County, to the Lehigh Valley Interchange with Route 22.

Here are five things to know about the turnpike’s widening plans:

The widening is being done piecemeal

The Northeast Extension’s current six-lane section ends about seven miles south of the Quakertown interchange in Bucks County, and widening work is underway to that point.

The 12-mile stretch between the Quakertown and Lehigh Valley interchanges has been broken into different sections.

“There’s four sections left,” said Kevin W. Scheurich, the turnpike commission’s assistant chief engineer for design. “It’s the Quakertown interchange, and then three sections going north.”

Section three was the one being presented at the meeting, and it will be constructed in tandem with section one near Quakertown.

This map shows the stretch of Pennsylvania Turnpike Northeast Extension set to be widened in the Lehigh Valley.
This map shows the stretch of Pennsylvania Turnpike Northeast Extension set to be widened in the Lehigh Valley.

“We would construct them consecutively, so that you don’t get an additional bottleneck,” Scheurich said. “We’ve done it so long and reconstructed so many miles, that those additional bottlenecks don’t seem to have a significant impact.”

Doing it this way will save time, Scheurich said, noting that it could take four years to work on one section, then move on to the next one. That meant the entire widening might take up to 16 years to complete.

“What if we constructed (sections) one and three at the same time, then two and four? Can we cut the quarter completion? That’s what we’re trying to do,” Scheurich said.

The timeline has already begun

Final design is underway as are environmental studies in anticipation of the permitting process.

Fieldwork, including Thursday’s meeting, is also underway to inform the design team about features that may impact the community around the highway and minimize them. The investigations include power lines, streams and wetlands, and geotechnical testing on adjacent structures and stormwater basins.

“It’s a massive undertaking,” Scheurich said. “Look at the team of people that you just have here tonight. To help service folks here, there might be 30 or 40 of us here to try to help out. It’s not unique to have folks that are working on a project with different professions. You might have a geotechnical engineer, environmental scientist, right-of-way professional, whatever it may be.”

The design stage is expected to last through 2027. Construction will begin in 2028 and end in the second quarter of 2032.

Coordination with property owners on right-of-way acquisition will begin this summer and continue through 2027.

One part of the project has already been completed — the replacement of the bridge at Vera Cruz Road in Upper Milford. Replacement of the bridge at Indian Creek Road in Lower Macungie is underway and is scheduled for completion early next year.

There will be several new features

The wider highway will have three12-foot driving lanes on each side, along with a 12-foot shoulder and a 26-foot median. The current road, with its 1950s-era design, has two 12-foot lanes with 10-foot shoulders and a 4-foot median.

In addition, there will be six new bridges over local roads, four emergency/maintenance access ramps, 12 stormwater management basins, 17 retaining walls and three locations eligible for noise abatement.

The bridge at Mill Road will be removed, while a new one will be built over Little Lehigh Creek.

Open Road Tolling still on schedule

One thing motorists won’t have to wait long for is the turnpike’s open road tolling system.

Turnpike commission press secretary Marissa Orbanek said it is still planned to be implemented in January on the entire Northeast Extension, along with the mainline turnpike east of the Reading interchange. Nineteen gantries with small utility buildings are being built.

Drivers will pass under the gantries that are located on the turnpike between exit and entry points. The equipment in the gantry and inside the road will calculate payments by processing vehicles with E-ZPass or by license plate.

Demolition will then begin on the toll booth structures at exits in the east and will be done before open road tolling is implemented on the western section in 2027.

Additional Lehigh Valley exits?

One advantage of having open road tolling is the potential for additional interchanges.

“Once we do our ORT, it does open those options up,” Scheurich said, but added that the priority is maintaining the current highway.

He said the commission has been approached by officials around the state about adding an exit to their municipality.

“It needs to make financial sense for us, to pay itself off in a period of time,” Scheurich said. “Every dollar we spend on something new is a dollar we can’t use to serve our existing system and coming out of Act 44; we have a lot of needs that have been delayed.”

If someone in the Lehigh Valley wants their local road connected to the turnpike, it’s recommended to first approach local officials to contact the commission.

“Honestly, if there were more interchanges, it brings more traffic and more revenue,” Scheurich said. “But there has to be balance.”

Morning 첥Ƶ reporter Evan Jones can be reached at ejones@mcall.com.

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