South Valley Parkway Brings Increased Safety and Economic Benefits to Northeastern Pennsylvania
A New Highway Creates New Opportunities: Pennsylvania DOT Chooses Roundabouts to Enhance Safety and Reduce Future Maintenance on the South Valley Parkway
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, which is part of Luzerne County/Hanover Township, is in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The South Valley Parkway (SVP) is a new highway that will run through Nanticoke, a nearby town with a population of approximately 11,000. Construction of the SVP is impacting the area significantly.
The $57.2 million contract is one of the largest in the district, and there are significant expectations of the project. In a press release, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) Secretary Leslie S. Richards said “ The South Valley Parkway project will increase safety, improve traffic flow, and stimulate economic development for the region. The benefits will be realized immediately.”
Michael Bernetski, a PennDOT Project Manager, laid out some of the specific goals of the SVP project:
· Alleviate congestion along State Route 2008
· Improve safety along State Route 2008
· Provide access to the Luzerne County Community College
· Accommodate future development needs
The new highway will be 2 miles long. One of the key elements of the SVP is roundabouts – seven to be exact. Those roundabouts involve major land work. To construct the roundabouts, the team had to excavate 1.3 million cubic yards of earth. This was done with “yukes,” or articulated dump trucks. Yukes are large earth-moving dump trucks, and they are highly adaptable to rough terrain. Bernetski says, “The yukes increased the team’s productivity.”
The roundabouts offer a couple of positives. Bernetski says, “The roundabouts are an operational and safety enhancement.” Because of the roundabouts, drivers only option will be a right-handed turning movement which means a clarity of movement.According to Bernetski, the roundabouts are also financially beneficial, “It costs less to maintain roundabouts than a conventional traffic signal.”
In addition to the roundabouts, the team constructed 18 basins along the corridor to satisfy federal stormwater regulations. “These basins are to capture storm water and release the water at a slow rate to prevent soil erosion and to minimize sediment from getting into our larger streams and rivers,” says Harold Hill, Assistant District Executive of Construction for PennDOT, District 4.
Wetlands were constructed as part of the project in order to replace those that were directly impacted by the construction of the project.
Luzerne County and the greater Wyoming Valley was once the home of thriving coal mines. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the significant amount of earthwork requires thorough environmental checks. “Working through the environmental constraints such as tree clearing, plantings, and rock removal was a challenge for the team,” says Bernetski.
The project necessitated 90 acres of deforestation. One species that is impacted by this is the Eastern small-footed Myotis bat, which is listed as threatened and protected species in Pennsylvania. So, four bat habitats were constructed out of the rock that was taken from the earthworks. “If the bats habitat isn’t preserved, it could aid in the extinction of this certain species of bat,” says Hill.
Other environmental issues included locating acid bearing rock. Once located, the rocks had to be removed, treated, and disposed of to an authorized waste site.
Due to size of the SVP project, it has posed challenges related to coordination and cooperation. Consider, more than 30 subcontractors have been part of the project. “In order to coordinate the many sub-contractors on the project, we have construction progress meetings,” says Bernetski. Coordination of all the local stakeholders as well as securing cooperation across multiple municipalities is a time-consuming process.
Bernetski adds another challenge. “The complexity of the projects led to over 400 pay items including 100 special items with multiple funding sources.” The team carefully tracked these transactions.
Financing and Scheduling
Both the federal and state governments are funding the SVP project. Some phases of project included 100 percent state funded, where other phasing was split 80 percent federal and 20 percent state.
The project is expected to come in about 3 percent over the original contract amount or $1.7 million more. Bernetski points to a few reasons for the overrun. Reasons include the installation of bridge fencing, additional/accelerated work at one of the roundabouts, haul road stabilization, additional utility relocations, upgrading to LED Street Lighting, and additional wetland mitigation work.
PennDOT broke ground on the South Valley Parkway in January 2016 and the project is scheduled to be complete in August.
Bernetski is confident the team will complete the project on time. “The project is slightly ahead of schedule with 96 percent complete and will be complete on the scheduled date of August 1, 2020,” says Bernetski.
Credit for keeping the project progressing in a timely manner, according to Hill, goes to the open communication of all the partners involved in the project. The team utilizes bi-weekly construction project meetings to report project progress and to identify any foreseeable upcoming issues. One issue that arose was a discrepancy in earthwork quantity between the department and the contractor. “Through the biweekly meetings, the department and the contractor were able to resolve the discrepancies and agree on quantities,” says Hill.
Local Benefits and Reaction to the Project
As the SVP project is nearing its end, locals are excited.
State Senator John Yudichak (I-Luzerne/Carbon) is pleased with PennDOT’s work and sees the project benefitting the area economically. “PennDOT has done a terrific job at ensuring that the South Valley Parkway will be completed on time and on budget,” said Yudichak. “The South Valley Parkway has enabled local companies to expand and has helped bring five national companies and over 4,000 jobs to the South Valley Corridor, with the promise of more companies wanting to call Luzerne County home.”
The area is home to Luzerne County Community College that has approximately 7,000 students. In a press release, the president of the college, Thomas P. Leary said, “With thousands of visitors to the campus almost daily, the new roadway creates a more direct link to LCCC from the surrounding area.”
Upon completion, there will be smoother access between the city of Wilkes-Barre and the city of Nanticoke. Commuters who used a state road will be able to use a local road which should alleviate congestion. In terms of economic benefits, the project has already spurned new development with the installation of a new roundabout and entities such as ACE Hardware and Spreetail.
Soon, the South Valley Parkway project will be complete. Congestion will be eased, and safety will be improved for commuters. Those are benefits Luzerne County residents can be happy with.