Luzerne County manager announces first batch of infrastructure grants

By Jennifer Learn-Andes -

Luzerne County Manager C. David Pedri came to Thursday’s Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce red carpet breakfast bearing a gift — the announcement of $5.8 million for infrastructure projects in six municipalities at the southern end of the county.

It’s the first batch of $15 million in municipal infrastructure awards from a community development business loan fund that is no longer in high demand.

County administrators opted to provide grants because the federal government does not want large pools of community development office funds sitting unused in the bank, and the funds cannot be used for county general fund operating expenses.

Pedri said the most significant project is $1.85 million toward construction of a second access route to the growing Humboldt Industrial Park in Hazle Township.

A second outlet will improve public safety, reduce congestion and open up more sites for economic development at the park, which employs more than 10,000, Pedri said, noting the project has been in the works for about two decades.

“We’re happy to support job creation in this area,” Pedri said after the breakfast at the Keystone Job Corps Center in Butler Township.

The other awards:

• Sugarloaf Township, $900,000 toward paving and bridge work on county-owned East County Road.

• Butler Township, $2.1 million for improvements and bridge work on Honey Hole Road, which also is owned by the county.

Officials in both Butler and Sugarloaf have said they are willing to accept ownership of county-owned roads and bridges if the infrastructure is brought up to standards.

• Freeland, $350,000 for sidewalk repairs and lighting on Front Street.

• Nescopeck, $300,000 for street improvements on Wall and Fourth streets and Raspberry, Cherry and Welsh avenues.

• West Hazleton, $311,000 for road improvements on Wayne Street and Adams, Jefferson and Ridge avenues.

Humboldt connection

The county’s $1.85 million will provide the remaining funding needed for a $4.1 million project to extend White Birch Road about a half mile in the Humboldt Industrial Park, said W. Kevin O’Donnell, president of the Hazleton area’s economic development agency, CAN DO Inc.

This White Birch extension is required to proceed with a $20 million, state-funded extension of Route 424 so the two roads can connect, O’Donnell said. Route 424 is directly accessible from Interstate 81 and Routes 309 and 93 in the Hazleton area.

The state may seek bids for its 424 construction at the end of 2019, he said.

The current artery into Humboldt — Route 924 — is plagued with bottlenecks, O’Donnell said. Past road closures of this highway due to truck accidents have prevented workers from getting in and out of the park unless they opted for a lengthy detour on rural roads.

A traffic study discouraged further development within the 3,000-acre park until the new connector is finished, O’Donnell noted.

In addition to the 10,000 existing workers, thousands will be added for the holiday season at a few of the park’s nearly 60 tenants, he said. IRIS USA is about to start construction of its 500,000-square-foot plastic manufacturing facility in the park, and Texas-based developer Trammell Crow Co. is constructing a 420,000-square-foot building based on speculation it will attract a tenant, O’Donnell said.

“The I-81 corridor is hot,” he said. “A lot is happening — not just in Hazleton, but also in Wilkes-Barre and Scranton.”

Hazle Township Supervisor Chairman Jim Montone said Route 924 is a “nightmare,” especially during Humboldt shift changes.

“This will also help when we have to get fire trucks and other emergency vehicles in there,” Montone said. “This is great news for the township and the entire Hazleton area as a whole.”

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.