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Bridge project will have big environmental impact

Dear Editor:

Our region has been selected for a massive bridge replacement project over the Lehigh River in Carbon and Luzerne counties. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the purpose of the I-80 Over Lehigh River Bridge Project is to address the deterioration of the aging bridge structures, and PennDOT provides images of peeling paint on its website to convince the public that the structures are beyond repair and must be replaced.

The estimated cost of the project is between $60 million and $75 million, to be funded in part by bridge tolling. While public attention has been focused on the tolling issue, this project could have impacts that go far beyond the tolls.

If approved, construction would begin in 2023 and last for about four years, during which trail closures and other obstacles will disrupt our region’s most popular tourist attractions, including the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, Lehigh Gorge State Park, and the Lehigh River Water Trail.

Once the tolls are in effect, according to PennDOT, around 5% of vehicles traveling eastbound on I-80 will exit the highway onto local roads to avoid the toll. The most likely diversion route will be Route 940, which runs through a scenic rural area where even a small amount of extra traffic could impact the quality of life for communities in the area.

The environmental impacts cannot be ignored. Stream channels and wetlands associated with the Lehigh River were identified within the project study area and will suffer permanent damage resulting from the project. How many acres of trees will be cleared to accommodate the increased width, length, and height of the replacement bridge?

Some residents might require more than a few images of peeling paint and rust stains to convince them that this project is either necessary or beneficial to our region.

Juliet Perrin