Expect Lots Of I-81 Construction
A two-year plan to repave Interstate 81 north and south between Dunmore in Lackawanna County and Hanover Twp. in Luzerne County will begin in June.
Two lanes will remain open during daytime construction with work-zone speed limits reduced from 55 mph to 45 mph. Any narrowing to one lane or a highway shutdown will happen almost exclusively at night, state Department of Transportation spokesman James May said.
“There are no planned lane closures during the day,” May said.
I-81 between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre is the most heavily traveled stretch of interstate in the two counties, with PennDOT estimating traffic of 80,000 vehicles a day near Scranton.
The job also will entail closing the Moosic Street exit on I-81 south next year. That’s necessary because the milling and removal of old pavement will make the interstate too uneven with the existing ramp. A contractor has already begun building a temporary left-lane exit there to allow ambulances to still quickly reach Scranton hospitals.
The $48 million project will end the construction-free calm that mostly prevailed last summer on I-81 in the two counties.
“There was no major projects on I-81 last year,” May said. “That will not be the case this year.”
The work includes eliminating the warped concrete pavement on I-81 and I-84 near their interchange with Route 6, the Casey Highway. The warping, which began years ago, feels like driving over closely spaced rumble strips, but with more pronounced bumps.
PennDOT engineers haven’t quite figured out why the highway warped there, but have their suspicions, May said. The highway there consists of concrete slabs rather than normal pavement. The slabs sit on a more granular material known as an “open-graded base” rather than a denser rock base typical of asphalt roads. Water may have worn away the base or simple earth settlement may have created the problem, May said.
Three different contractors won contracts for the work:
■ Kriger Construction Inc., of Scranton, won a $13,397,502 contract to replace the warped concrete slabs in a roughly 2.4-mile stretch of I-81 around the interchange to the Central Scranton Expressway and about 1.6 miles on I-84 between I-81 and I-84’s Elmhurst exit. As Kriger paves the Drinker Street on and off ramps, northbound and southbound drivers will use a detour that reaches Drinker by exiting I-84 at Tigue Street. Kriger must finish the job by May 21, 2020, according to PennDOT’s construction contracts website.
■ D.A. Collins Construction Co. Inc., of Wilton, New York, won a $17,640,513 contract for I-81 paving of about 6.3 miles south of the River Street (north) and Central Scranton Expressway (south) exits to the Luzerne County line. That includes building the temporary Moosic Street exit ramp and paving exit and entrance ramps. D.A. Collins must finish the job by Oct. 23, 2020, according to PennDOT.
■ New Enterprise Stone & Lime Co. Inc., of New Enterprise, won a $16,963,523 contract for I-81 paving of about 15.5 miles between the Luzerne County line and the Hanover Twp. interchange. New Enterprise must finish the job by Oct. 13, 2020, according to PennDOT.
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Did you know?
All the funding for the Interstate 81 paving in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties over the next two years will come from the federal Highway Trust Fund.
The trust fund finances almost all federal government spending for the National Highway System and mass transit, according to the Tax Policy Center.
The fund’s revenues come from transportation-related federal excise taxes, primarily on gasoline and diesel fuel. The current tax rates are 18.4 cents a gallon for gasoline and ethanol-blended fuels and 24.4 cents a gallon for diesel.
The 23.4 miles that contractors will pave as part of this project over the next two years represents only a small fraction of the entire interstate system, which is 46,876 miles long, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
— BORYS KRAWCZENIUK