Ramp project delays
The new Route 903 exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Penn Forest Township won't be open until the fall of 2014 at the earliest.
Bids for the second phase of the two-part project are tentatively scheduled to be opened on Aug. 22.
Bill Cappone, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, said construction should start six to eight weeks after the awarding of the bid.
He said it is a two-year construction project so the best-case scenario would be the fall of 2014, although it might be during the winter that it opens.
The new ramp is being built between the Mahoning and Pocono exits - mile marker 87 - of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It will especially help Pocono resorts such as ski areas for easier access of visitors to the region without having to back-track from Franklin Township or Route 940.
Turnpike officials said the new interchange will allow all four directions of traffic: turnpike entrances from Route 903 - south to Allentown and north towards Wilkes-Barre, and turnpike exits - south towards Jim Thorpe and north toward Blakeslee.
The first part of the project was completed in 2011. It was a bridge where Route 903 crosses the turnpike.
Original plans had called for the project to be done by this summer, but problems with wetlands was one of the reasons for the delay. The Turnpike Commission had to get special approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because of the Stoney Creek, multiple unnamed tributaries to Stoney Creek, and Little Beaver Lake.
Last July, the Army Corps determined none of the existing wetlands would be impacted by the construction.
The exit ramp can be utilized only by E-ZPass access. Anyone getting on or off the turnpike without an E-ZPass will have their license plate caught on camera and be subjected to a fine.
Also part of the second phase will be a new three-lane bridge to be tied to an existing two-lane bridge.
Phase 2 will have what the turnpike calls a "diamond pattern," the shape formed by the north and south entrance and exit ramps. There will be four ramps and four two-lane electronic gateless portals.
This will be the first interchange on the turnpike system to accept E-ZPass payments exclusively.
The project area covers 45.60 acres.
Besides serving the Poconos, another reason for the added Route 903 exit is because the 19-mile distance between Mahoning Valley and Pocono exits is the longest on the Northeast Extension without an interchange, and among the longest on the entire 545-mile Pennsylvania Turnpike system.