Long-awaited $42M infrastructure project underway

June 27th, 2015 1:39 am

First Posted: 7/10/2013

Back in the 1980s, an idea to connect an industrial park in Dupont to an I-81 interchange by traversing Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport property was hatched. Because of funding issues, however, the matter stayed on the back burner.

State Rep. Mike Carroll kept the heat on the kettle and in recent years the project has picked up steam. On Wednesday, the pot finally boiled over as officials broke ground on a multi-phased, $41.9 million project that includes traffic roundabouts and the realignment of four interstate exits/entrances into two.

When complete, possibly by late 2015, the work will reshape the Avoca interchanges off I-81, open a portion of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport property for development and provide easier access for vehicles from an industrial park to and from the interstate that, in turn, will alleviate congestion on Dupont’s thoroughfares.

Pennsy Supply Inc., of Annville will perform the work that required the cooperation and approval of the Federal Aviation Administration, the airport’s Bi-County Board of Directors, PennDOT and local municipalities.

Charles Adonizio, immediate past president of the Greater Pittston Chamber of Commerce, said once completed, the project will entice companies to take a closer look at becoming tenants in the Grimes Industrial Park and will bring jobs and additional tax base to Greater Pittston.

“This will be the catalyst,” Adonizio said.

It’s a catalyst that’s long been promised.

In the late 1980s, the portion of the project connecting the industrial park to I-81 through the airport was first suggested. Rosemary Dessoye, now the chamber’s director, remembers sending letters to tenants of what was then called the Eastern Distribution Center, now the Grimes Industrial Park, on her first day of work, Nov. 1, 1989. The letters sought letters of support for the project.

The cost was too high and the project lingered on the back burner while other projects in the region, including the Casey Highway in Lackawanna County, proceeded.

But it picked up steam in recent years - thanks to Carroll. Once the I-81 interchange was coupled with the connector road project, it began to gain traction in a hurry.

Carroll, who received praise from multiple officials Wednesday during the groundbreaking, called the project “a great, great day for Greater Pittston and a great, great day for Lackawanna and Luzerne counties.”

“For 20 years, the Lackawanna and Luzerne county commissioners have been working with Dupont Borough, Pittston Township and Avoca Borough officials plus business leaders, airport officials and PennDOT to put a shovel in the ground to begin this project, and we are finally here,” Carroll said. “Today marks another giant step forward for the Greater Pittston area and for the people of Lackawanna and Luzerne counties. I’m thankful for the efforts of all who laid the foundation for today’s groundbreaking.”

Carroll offered praise of his own, thanking PennDOT for pushing and supporting the project in recent years. He credited George Roberts, executive for PennDOT’s District 4 in Dunmore, with helping to get the project fast tracked.

“It’s an excellent improvement for Northeastern Pennsylvania’s transportation and infrastructure network,” said Roberts, who also noted that it’s the only capacity adding project this year in the district that encompasses Lackawanna, Luzerne, Pike, Wayne, Susquehanna and Wyoming counties.

Included in the project are:

* Reconfiguration of the I-81 interchange that will consolidate what is four on- and off-ramps in the Avoca area into two.

* Creation of a series of four roundabouts that will change the look of the entrance and exit to the airport.

* Construction of an extension to the existing Navy Way Road, including construction of a bridge over the turnpike that will create better access to and from businesses in the Grimes Industrial Park.

That last part of the work will also open 95 acres on the airport’s western side to potential development and is something airport officials view as key. While the airport’s gateway will look different and there will be more traffic passing by its entrance and exit, the potential for development is a win for the facility, board Vice Chairman Corey D. O’Brien said.

“Today, we mark a new beginning and we commit new federal, state and local investments that will ensure safer commutes for our residents and for visitors to our region while improving prospects for business growth and jobs,” Blake said at the event that included dignitaries from Lackawanna and Luzerne counties, including former Luzerne County Commissioner Tom Cooney, a resident of Jenkins Township, who was praised for his hard work on the project, too.

“This groundbreaking means the hard work, perseverance and diligence of our local officials has finally paid off,” said Blake, D-Archbald.