Five access options are proposed for the Northface Industrial Park in Palmerton.
They are the existing Mauch Chunk Corridor, required improvements to Mauch Chunk Road, a signalized intersection with Route 248, a new interchange with Route 248 and two separate access points.
Of those, the state Department of Transportation's preferred alternative is the two separate access points, also known as Alternative 5, according to David Lear, senior project manager, wetland delineation specialist for Lehigh Engineering Associates.
That alternative was chosen as the best access to the Northface Industrial site, with the least impact on traffic in Palmerton and Bowmanstown.
At present, the only access is a private driveway that intersects with Mauch Chunk Road, a two-lane roadway, owned and maintained by the borough of Palmerton, which cannot safely handle the additional traffic, especially truck traffic, from an industrial site such as proposed.
Without proper access to Route 248, it would be difficult for the Northface project to proceed to realization, developer George Petrole has said.
The options, as outlined by PennDOT:
The preferred option calls for two points of access into the site.
This proposal consists of a combination of a partial interchange and an all-grade intersection, with the ramps at the Palmerton interchange to provide access to the site from Route 248. A combination of ramps would be constructed on Route 248 to allow a westbound access entrance and exit from the site. For eastbound exits, an intersection with Delaware Avenue at the Palmerton interchange would have to be constructed.
The existing ramp configuration at this intersection was designed and constructed almost 50 years ago, with a substandard merge for westbound exiting traffic and eastbound existing traffic from Route 248 into Palmerton.
As motorists leave Route 248, they have to decide which lane they must enter at the ramp intersection with Mauch Chunk Road: A left turn lane for vehicles heading west on Mauch Chunk Road, or a straight/right lane for vehicles heading into the borough. Each motorist has the right of way, since there are no yield or stop control signs for either ramp maneuver. A westbound motorist who wants to turn left at the intersection of Delaware Avenue/Mauch Chunk Road conflicts with an eastbound motorist who wants to continue straight into the Borough of Palmerton.
The Northface property line for the site adjoins the right-of-way line on the north side of the ramps.
would be added
The proposal is to provide an access from the site, called Industrial Drive, to intersect with the ramps. This would allow access to and from the site and would eliminate conflict for motorists approaching Mauch Chunk Road/Delaware Avenue.
The improvements at the new intersection would be:
Ÿ Extend the proposed access road (Industrial Drive) from the site to intersect with the ramp system leading to the Delaware Avenue/Mauch Chunk Road intersection. This includes a separate right and left turn lane for added capacity, and utilize proper radii for truck improvements.
Ÿ Widen Delaware Avenue leading toward Palmerton to provide a left turn lane into the site via the extension of the access road. The new left turn must be 175 feet long to meet future traffic needs.
Ÿ Provide a 4-foot-wide median to prohibit the westbound exit ramp movement from making left turns into the site from a ramp from Route 248.
Ÿ Add an extra lane to the westbound exiting ramp to Palmerton to provide adequate ramp capacity for future traffic volume.
Ÿ Provide proper overhead signs for lane control.
Ÿ Provide three-phase traffic signal.
Ÿ Interconnect the new signal with the existing signal at Delaware Avenue/Mauch Chunk Road. The proposed intersection would be a beneficial improvement both during the current fill operation, as well as during the development phase. Initially, it would provide access for heavy trucks delivering fill material, reducing the number of trucks using Mauch Chunk Road. During the development phase, traffic leaving the site would be limited to right turns. Motorists travelling east from the site would continue to utilize the access onto Mauch Chunk Road. In the later stages of the development, a signal would be added and access onto Mauch Chunk Road will be restricted to emergency vehicles.
This alternative would provide all the access needed to serve the Northface site, and is also one of the least expensive of the four alternatives that require new construction. The only issue of this alternative is the construction of the new signal near the intersection of Mauch Chunk Road and Delaware Avenue.
Ÿ The "no-build" option involves no improvements to any part of the roadway network and would require all proposed industrial traffic to and from the 130-acre facility to gain access from Mauch Chunk Road through the aforementioned private driveway.
The Mauch Chunk Road corridor is not adequate for accommodating large traffic volumes, truck traffic in particular. Mauch Chunk Road intersects with Delaware Avenue at a signalized intersection, with only a one-lane approach to the intersection. A railroad overpass across Mauch Chunk Road about 160 feet west of the stop bar at Delaware Avenue is an impediment to widening the roadway to provide an additional approach lane on Mauch Chunk Road. The overpass clearance is 13 feet, 8 inches. A second overpass is located about 290 feet further west, with a posted clearance of only 12 feet, 7 inches.
This option does not conform to applicable Penn DOT design criteria and is inconsistent with the Borough of Palmerton's Comprehensive Plan, as well as Carbon County's Comprehensive Plan.
Ÿ Widening of the existing Mauch Chunk Road would accommodate traffic to and from the proposed Northface Industrial site. It involves widening of the roadway to sufficient width to allow parking and sufficient lane width for proposed industrial truck traffic, which would increase the width of the roadway from 31 feet to 49 feet (two 8-foot parking lanes, two 14-foot travel lanes, and a five-foot sidewalk on the north side). In addition, the intersection of Delaware Avenue and Mauch Chunk Road would have to be widened to provide required auxiliary lanes to achieve proper and safe traffic levels of service.
Negatives are the cost of widening and reconstruction of the new roadway, as well as the elimination and reconstruction of the railroad bridges, in addition to the impact to the current residents in this area of Palmerton.
Ÿ A new signalized intersection with Route 248 to allow direct access for all ingress/egress movements to the Northface site from one access point, and would involve the addition of an eastbound left turn lane, as well as a westbound right turn lane on Route 248 to allow both westbound and eastbound access into the Northface site in a safe condition.
Along the seven-mile section of Route 248 from where it intersects with Route 209 in the west to where Route 248 intersects with Route 145/State Route 873 to the east, there are eight access points. Route 248 would be widened on the north side of the roadway to provide for the construction of an eastbound left turn lane and a westbound right turn lane. The site access drive will provide two lanes in each direction for a distance of about 400 feet separated by a four-foot median. In all likelihood, the signal operation would include phasing for either a protected/permitted, or a protected/prohibited left turn phase for eastbound traffic entering the site. Two through lanes would be maintained on Route 248 in each direction.
Route 248 within this section carries an annual daily traffic volume of about 19,000 vehicles.
The break in the Route 248 median, thereby requiring a traffic signal, is a downfall because of the need to stop the huge amount of Route 248 traffic. Also, the proposed intersection with Route 248 is between two interchanges that are only 2.6 miles apart. Both eastbound and westbound motorists would pass through an interchange configuration and suddenly be confronted with a traffic signal and cross traffic, which could be a safety issue.
Ÿ Constructing a new interchange with Route 248 to allow direct access for movements to the Northface site from one access point without disrupting traffic on Route 248. A diamond-type layout was chosen to save space next to the Lehigh River, and would involve the relocation and reconstruction of a section of Route 248 to the north to avoid encroachment on the 100-year flood plain of the Lehigh River, and allow enough area for ramps and the embankments needed for the overpass structure.
The Northface development site is situated between two interchanges along the area of Route 248: The Palmerton interchange on the east, and the Bowmanstown interchange on the west.
The possibility of constructing another interchange within the limits of the Northface east-west property limits was investigated. A diamond-type interchange could be placed at the midpoint of the property, with ramps that would not affect, nor be affected by, the existing ramps from either the Palmerton or Bowmanstown interchanges. There appears to be enough room between the Lehigh River and the existing edge of pavement of Route 248 to provide ingress/egress ramps on the south side of Route 248, which would be connected to a bridge structure over Route 248.
However, the 100-year floodplain for the Lehigh River extends to the edge of the existing Route 248 roadway.
The only way to provide a new interchange would be to relocate an entire section of Route 248 to the north to provide the room for the needed ramps. However, this would eliminate too large an area of the industrial site to make the project worthwhile.
The cost of relocating Route 248 and the design and construction of the new ramp configuration, as well as construction of the overpass structure for the ramp access intersections would be estimated to cost over $11 million. It is doubtful funding resources exist to handle this type of cost.