PITTSTON TWP. — Representatives from the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and the state Department of Transportation came together to announce the Scranton Beltway, which will connect Interstates 81 and 476 for smoother traveling.
According to information provided by PennDOT, the plan calls for highway-speed connections that will enable motorists to drive from interstate to interstate in northbound and southbound directions.
The plan includes two separate links — one connection south of Scranton in Dupont Borough and Pittston Township and one north of Scranton in South Abington Township.
Pennsylvania Turnpike CEO Mark Compton said the turnpike commission came together with PennDOT two years ago to begin research on the project.
“Our studies have confirmed that this project is workable from an economic and an engineering standpoint and we can deliver the benefits that we thought we could,” he said.”
Environmental studies and preliminary design for the beltway are expected to last the next three to four years with a cost of up to $10 million. Final designs will start at the completion of the preliminary design, which could begin as early as 2021.
The entire project should be completed in 2022 or 2023, according to Pennsylvania Turnpike officials.
State Rep. Michael B. Carroll, D-Avoca, said this project will not interfere with the current Interstate 81 construction taking place at the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre International Airport roundabout in Avoca.
“That will be long done by the time this operation begins,” he said, “The activity you see on I-81 up to the airport will be done by the time this gets started. They’re two separate projects.”
The construction cost is estimated at around $160 million, for which PennDOT will contribute $40 million and the remaining portion will be funded by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.
Funding for the project is courtesy of the 2013 Act 89, which funds local highway and bridge projects.
PennDOT Deputy Secretary for Planning Jim Ritzman said the decision for the beltway project was because PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission both feel improvements need to be made for travelers.
“A few years ago, PennDOT and the Turnpike Commission said that we have so many opportunities to do things better,” he said. “Instead of just looking within ourselves, we needed to be more collaborative. There was an initiative started called ‘Mapping the Future’ where ideas were just brainstormed between where potential lies between what the Turnpike Commission does and what PennDOT does. We said we both have infrastructure in the same area and asked how could we take advantage of what we have.”
To keep both cash-paying and E-Z Pass customers moving around the new beltway, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission plans to introduce nonstop tolling at the connection points.
Drivers who would normally pay with cash will instead use a system called “Toll by Plate” which captures an image of the vehicle’s license plate at highway speed and generates a monthly invoice then mailed to the vehicle owner.
Although the beltway is not scheduled to begin until the 2020s, representatives from PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Turnpike are hopeful the project will decrease congestion and make traveling easier for drivers.
“We look forward to partnering with PennDOT, federal highway administrations, key state and local stakeholders as we get this project built for the local community,” said Compton.
Reach Jimmy Fisher at 570-704-3972 or on Twitter @SD_JimmyFisher