Q: I use Route 33 for my work commute between Allentown and Tobyhanna Army Depot, and though the resurfacing of the highway has taken a long time, it's well worth it! However, I would like to know why it is not complete. They stopped repaving at the Wind Gap exit and resumed north of Wind Gap. This area is as much in need of repair as the rest of 33, yet it was passed over. The exit and entrance ramps also have not been addressed. Did the contract for the repaving skip this section on purpose, and if so, why?
— Robert Smerdon, Allentown
A: As PennDOT tries to piece together as much resurfacing work as it can muster under the chronic funding shortages that have plagued the department, officials can't always cover as much road as they'd like to in one shot.
Regarding the "missing" section of Route 33 in particular, "It's just the way the projects are broken out," said PennDOT engineer Jay McGee, assistant district executive for design. "There's only so much money at one time," and normally, interchange ramps are resurfaced separately under different contracts, McGee said.
There's another reason it made sense to skip the portion of 33 in the area of the 512 interchange, McGee said: PennDOT plans a major rehabilitation of the interchange beginning this year. Heavy equipment moving into and out of the area could wear on any brand-new paving on the highway, so it made sense to wait.
Otherwise, "You tear up the [new] paving to put the interchange [paving] in," said PennDOT spokesman Sean Brown.
The $13 million contract for the interchange work already has been awarded. Crews should be mobilizing out there at some point this season — spring having sprung — and unfortunately, it will take a two-year trip to complete the project.
In something of a new approach to traffic restrictions, at least in our region, the contractor will be free to close one lane at a time in either direction on Route 33; however, if lanes are closed during the daytime, a "lane rental fee" of $7,800 per day, per lane, will be assessed, according to PennDOT spokesman Ron Young. Lane rental fees will not be imposed for closures 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. daily on southbound 33, or 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily for the northbound side, Young said.
He said lane rental fees are not a completely new model to PennDOT; the tactic has been used on occasion. Obviously it's meant as an incentive to keep traffic flowing freely unless it's really necessary to close lanes, but it gives the contractor the opportunity to restrict traffic so long as there's a willingness to pay.
Why allow daytime lane closures at all on a highway such as Route 33? Engineers managed to design the reconstruction of the MacArthur Road interchange of Route 22, including the demolition and replacement of the bridge over the Valley's busiest highway, without daytime lane closures. It seems the same could be done at 512 and 33 without blowing the price sticker clean off the window.
Anyway, according to the plans, acceleration and deceleration lanes will be lengthened on five of the six ramps; the ramp from 512 north to 33 south will be eliminated, and all 512 traffic bound for 33 south will use the upgraded version of the existing ramp from 512 south to 33 south.
To accommodate the latter change, a traffic signal will be added to control traffic at what will be, in effect, a new intersection at the Route 33 south off/on ramps and Jacobsburg Road, which is directly across Route 512 from the ramps, according to Young.
The $13 million sticker price also covers the redecking of the interchange bridge (replacement of the beams that support the road surface, and of course the surface as well), and replacement of fascia beams; the bridge taking 33 over Male Road also will be redecked, and 512 will be reconstructed or milled and repaved on both sides of the bridge.
The final piece of the package will be the milling and repaving of the missing line of Route 33, Robert said, and while they're add it, median barriers will be installed for a little more than a half-mile both north and south of the interchange, according to plans.
In a separate project, PennDOT intends to surface the portion of Route 33 from where the new paving related to the interchange work ends and the Monroe County line. Construction funding for that 1.85-mile stretch is listed in the Transportation Improvement program for 2015 and 2016 — an estimated $4.7 million to also include shoulder and guide rail upgrades and bridge repairs, repaving of the ramp from Broadway to 33 north, and repairs to the Route 33 bridges over Male Road, Center Street and Broadway.
One other point, while we're traveling on Route 33 in our region: The $5 million reconstruction of the Freemansburg Avenue interchange, delayed from last year and re-scheduled for construction this year, has hit another speed-bump and now is projected for construction in 2014, according to McGee.
The Freemansburg interchange has been the source of considerable traffic into the Warrior's email garage, mostly involving criticism of or confusion about signal phasing and proper use of turning lanes.
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