PITTSTON TWP. – A multi-pronged construction project that will change routes to and from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport is expected to begin in June.
The estimated cost of the project is at least $45 million. The project includes:
• Elimination of one northbound and one southbound exit off Interstate 81.
• Construction of a road and bridge over the Pennsylvania Turnpike to create a more direct route to and from the interstate for businesses in the Grimes Industrial Park and the construction of three traffic roundabouts.
The plan still requires approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, since a portion of airport property is being used, and an agreement from Dupont, which has been asked to maintain a stretch of the newly built road, before the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation can begin the bidding process.
That is expected to start in March, with bids to be opened April 11, awarded later that month and work beginning in June, PennDOT District 4 spokesman James May said. It's anticipated that the work will continue for at least two years.
The Bi-County Board of Directors of the airport voted 5-1 Thursday to sign off on a series of easements and land sales involving PennDOT.
The multifaceted plan has been in the works for decades and picked up momentum in recent years as PennDOT, state Rep. Mike Carroll, D-Avoca, and the Greater Pittston Chamber of Commerce got behind the project and made a concerted push for the airport to get on board.
PennDOT was moving forward with the portion of the project that would reconfigure the I-81 exits for the airport, creating one exit in each direction, instead of the two that now exist.
But part of the project calls for the construction of a .85-mile access road from the existing airport entrance off I-81, over the Pennsylvania Turnpike and connecting to Commerce Boulevard in the Grimes Industrial Park so trucks can have better access to the interstate and alleviate congestion on residential streets in Dupont. The exits did not need airport approval, but the connector road work does.
For motorists exiting the new I-81 southbound exit ramp heading to the airport or the industrial park, they'll have to drive through three roundabouts. For those heading to the airport using the northbound interstate exit, they'll have to go through one circle. For those leaving the airport or industrial park and heading to 81 northbound, they'll have to traverse one traffic roundabout. If their goal is to get on 81 southbound, they'll have to circumnavigate three roundabouts.
Airport Executive Director Barry J. Centini said there is a concern over how confusing the roundabouts might be for motorists and what happens if a vehicle overturns in the roundabout closest to the airport terminal and blocks access. But he said PennDOT has deemed the concerns have been addressed.
May said the roundabouts have been designed with the largest 18-wheelers in mind.