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Pennsylvania DOT P3 Board Approves I-81 Project to Address Safety and Mobility Needs

HARRISBURG, PA — The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) Public-Private Transportation Partnerships (P3) Board approved a proposed P3 project to reconstruct a 4.5-mile section of I-81 near Wilkes-Barre.

The P3 Board originally approved the project in late 2018 as a bundling of 15 bridge replacements along I-80 and I-81 in Luzerne County. The PennDOT P3 Office reassessed the needs of the corridor and developed a proposal that included eight of the original 15 bridges while also addressing the needs of the corridor as a whole.

The project includes widening the interstate to three lanes in both directions between Exit 164 to Exit 168, realigning 2.5 miles of I-81 southbound and replacing eight bridges, as well as other related improvements. Safety and mobility improvements include eliminating a left-hand exit on I-81 northbound (Route 309) and addressing a substandard weave distance between SR 0029 and SR 0309 on I-81 northbound.

"There's no denying that I-81 in Luzerne County is one of the most heavily-traveled corridors in the state," said PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards. "The P3 approach will allow PennDOT greater flexibility in making these critical improvements to our transportation network."

The 4.5-mile segment is located within PennDOT District 4-0, a six-county district that currently maintains a transportation network of 3,932 miles of roadways and 2,090 bridges. Major roadways in the district include Interstates 80 and 81, which remain relatively unchanged from their original construction in the 1960s. These major corridors and bridges have traffic volumes ranging from 25,000 to 50,000 vehicles daily, which are projected to increase with the development of the region.

An increase in demand by road users coupled with an increase in the age of the infrastructure has made it challenging for PennDOT to stay ahead of the needs of the traveling public. Delivering this reconstructed corridor through P3 delivery will allow PennDOT to address these issues and needs in a faster timeframe than traditional delivery.

In July 2012, the Public and Private Partnerships for Transportation Act was signed into law, which authorized P3 projects in Pennsylvania. This law allows PennDOT and other state agencies, transportation authorities and commissions to partner with private companies to participate in delivering, maintaining and financing transportation-related projects.

As part of the P3 law, the seven-member Public-Private Transportation Partnership Board was appointed to examine and approve potential public-private transportation projects. If the board determines a state operation or project would be more cost-effectively administered or delivered by a private company, the department or appropriate transportation agency can advertise a competitive Request for Proposals and enter into a contract with a company to completely or partially deliver the transportation-related service or project.

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