In this Update:
Join Senator Scavello Next Saturday at the Get Outdoors PA Festival at Brodhead Creek Park
Committee Discusses Critical Role of High-Speed Internet in Healthcare, Emergency Response
On Tuesday, the Senate Communications and Technology Committee held a public hearing at the Monroe County Safety Center.
Attending were various stakeholders who testified on the importance and impact of broadband access on healthcare and first responders. This was the second in a series of hearings on the issue of Pennsylvania’s digital divide.
I appreciate that Chairwoman Kristin Phillips-Hill decided to hold this hearing in Monroe County at my request. A video of the hearing, the agenda, and written testimony for the hearing are available here.
Interstate 80 Expansion: Separating Fact from Fiction
As many Pocono residents can attest, Interstate 80 serves as both the region’s lifeblood and, too often, a major source of headache for area motorists. On one hand, many of the 29 million annual visitors to the Poconos travel I-80 to frequent our businesses and enjoy recreational opportunities; however, local residents are regularly caught in prolonged bumper-to-bumper traffic both on the Interstate and surrounding roadways.
It takes almost nothing to send I-80 travel into a tailspin. Whether it’s an accident, routine roadwork or just a tractor trailer pulled over on the shoulder, even small incidents lead to back-up for miles. And the congestion will worsen.
A solution to the issues with I-80 is not easy, no matter what some may try to argue.
While there are valid concerns with expanding I-80 to three lanes, I would suggest that the impact of “doing nothing” or keeping it two lanes would have an even greater negative impact in the future – and the data supports that conclusion.
In 1974, just over 34,000 vehicles traveled I-80 daily. Today, the average daily traffic can exceed 70,500 vehicles and, on some weekends, the number climbs above 90,000.
Current studies estimate traffic volumes will reach 132,800 vehicles per day by 2045 – almost double today’s numbers.
In addition, I-80 is significantly affected by global events and trends – including the dredging of the Panama Canal. With larger container ships now able to pass through the Canal, East Coast sea ports are set to see dramatic increases in activity as freight movement increasingly moves east to west. A 2016 study projected that I-80 truck traffic will increase by approximately 45% over 30 years.
In response to the increasing stress on I-80, the Federal Highways Administration (FHWA) identified the I-80 corridor as needing significant upgrades, including the addition of a third lane in each direction, wider shoulder widths and longer entrance/exit ramps.
Current, updated studies show the I-80 corridor through the Boroughs contains the highest frequency of incidents on the entire stretch from New Jersey to Ohio.
The proposed expansion project, at its heart, is a safety project.
While some residents have argued for trying to improve the existing four-lane highway, current studies show that a project based on this approach would receive an “F” rating soon after completion. The engineering also shows that the property area needed to simply make “safety enhancements” and upgrade the roadway to current design standards is almost identical to adding a third lane.
A third lane will not in itself create more traffic – increased traffic congestion is coming regardless of whether the highway is expanded. We owe it to future generations to plan for this growth.
Some have suggested building a bypass to take traffic off I-80. With today’s strict environmental standards, the significant property condemnation that would be required and a federal government largely opposed to construction of new highways, this is virtually impossible.
Others have suggested beginning expansion with a different stretch of I-80 instead of the corridor that goes through the Boroughs. Because the $600 million of federal funds are earmarked for enhancing safety, and because the data continues to show this area as the most unsafe corridor, the project must address the worst area first.
The current I-80 expansion project is only the first step leading toward the end goal of a full three-lane highway in each direction from the Water Gap up to I-380. Efforts are already underway to begin the next section by the time this project is finished.
And let’s not forget that the expansion is not just for out-of-town traffic, rather, area residents use I-80 as a local road as well. Adding a third lane in each direction will allow for improved traffic flow when accidents occur and will better accommodate traffic that enters and exits I-80 within Monroe County. On a daily basis, over 20,000 vehicles traveling north on 209 enter I-80 East and exit before Delaware Water Gap.
I am pleased that over half a billion dollars of federal transportation funds are being spent in Monroe County on this project alone. The expansion of I-80 addresses a number of long-standing safety issues with the highway and helps put Monroe County on the map as we continue to invest back into our regional infrastructure.
I will continue to push for solutions that plan for future growth and balance the concerns of our local community. I encourage anyone interested to reach out to me personally to discuss further.
Applications are being accepted through Oct. 18 for the PA Fire Company and Emergency Medical Service Grant Program.
Funds can be used for construction/renovation, equipment purchase/repair, training, debt reduction and more. Volunteer and career services can apply. Details and applications here.
Grandparents and other extended family members often take on the responsibility of raising children after the unexpected passing of a loved one. The number of children being raised by extended family members has sharply increased in recent years due to the heroin and opioid addiction crisis.
A new hotline has been established to help connect families in kinship care situations with resources that are available to them. The hotline can be reached at 1-866-546-2111 and is open Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. and on Fridays from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.
September is National Recovery Month, a time to spread the word that substance use treatment and mental health services can enable those in need to live healthy and rewarding lives.
Need treatment for you or someone you know? Call the Get Help Now Hotline: 1-800-662-4357 to speak with a professional. More information and resources here.
For National Preparedness Month, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency is offering tips on how to create an emergency kit, the facts about flood insurance and more.
You can sign up for weekly preparedness tips throughout September.
Around the 40th District
Thursday evening, I joined the Pocono Chamber of Commerce as we congratulated Mountain View Vineyard, Winery, Brewery and Distillery as they celebrate their 10 year anniversary. To mark the occasion I presented the owners, Linda and Randy Rice, with a Senate Citation. Congratulations Linda and Randy! Cheers!
On Thursday, I attended the demolition kick-off event for the Smithfield Gateway Project. The project is now underway with the demolition of several structures located on the former Mosier’s Dairy property. The old farmhouse will be preserved and is planned to be transformed into a farm-to-table restaurant. Other items will be incorporated into the Middle Smithfield Community & Cultural Center which broke ground last week. This project also includes significant road improvements to route 209 and the construction of a new loop road that will connect route 209 to route 447. These significant roadway improvements will make this important corridor much safer for the traveling public.
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