PennDOT paving job goes begging on Route 309

Q: The exit ramp from Route 309 north to Tilghman Street west has been ground up for quite some time now. Is there any schedule of when this exit ramp will finally be resurfaced and finished? It is a rather bumpy exit.

— Joe Scull, Coopersburg

 

Q: My travels often take me on Route 309 north to the exit at Tilghman Street, which takes me westbound toward the Trivet Restaurant. Since that exit ramp has taken quite a beating over the years with the weight of 18-wheelers heading for I-476 or Warehouse Row, it caused the blacktop to wave or buckle in the heat of summer under the weight of those trucks. PennDOT scraped that small portion of the ramp down to the old concrete roadway. As an avid motorcyclist, that old, gnarly, beat-up section of concrete is dangerous for two-wheelers, and is taking its toll of car suspensions as well. When will that short portion of the exit ramp be taken care of?

— Rick Kline, Lower Macungie Township

 

A: I'm all for removing layers of asphalt that have been badly misshapen from the pushing or shoving effects of vehicle force, gentlemen. This washboard-like effect sometimes is called "carpeting," the analogy being a bunched carpet on a bare-wood floor.

The effect of the blaring sun on hot summer days makes asphalt more malleable, and you're right, Rick, big-rigs rolling off 309 and hitting the air brakes to negotiate the downgrade curve toward Tilghman would constitute a particularly brutal assault on even the highest-quality layers of "superpave," an asphalt composition intended to in part resist carpeting.

Unfortunately, there's no shortage of carpeted sections of roadway in the Lehigh Valley region. Whitehall Township Public Works Director John Rackus reeled off a list for me recently, with the resignation of a guy recounting his kids' Christmas-gift list, knowing he couldn't afford to get half the items. (I don't remember if he included Third Street at the Grape Street intersection, but there's a jarring example of the effect at that location.) I'm sure most other municipal officials have similar tales to tell.

The asphalt surface on all four approaches to the interminably busy intersection of Cedar Crest Boulevard and Tilghman Street at the Allentown/South Whitehall Township border have been rumpled in this fashion for years — or at least they had been, until recently. But more on that later.

The 309 ramp was milled in July 2012. The 1.5-inch layer of asphalt was removed because of the carpeting and general deterioration, Young said. That's fine.

This part's not so great — and please don't blame the messenger, gents — the milling was done back in July 2012, and not only has the jaggedly abraded road surface been testing motorists' patience for over a year, but PennDOT had no plans to repave the ramp when the work was done, and still has no such plans today. "It's just going to stay like it is," Young said.

Forever?

"The whole interchange is [listed] on the 'Decade of Investment' plan" for a complete rehabilitation, Young said, referring to PennDOT's 10-year wish list of major highway projects. Only one problem: There's no money for this or many other items on the list, in part because the Legislature failed to approve Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed transportation budget. The Corbett plan specified an increase in the tax charged to gasoline wholesalers (the cost of which likely would be passed on to motorists) and a mix of increases in long-stagnant license, registration and related vehicle fees.

Reconstruction of the Tilghman Street interchange of Route 309 will be welcomed by many motorists, including Judy Ross and Joseph Lubell, both of South Whitehall Township, Brian Alnutt of New Tripoli and others who have recounted its various deficiencies over the years. But PennDOT officials can't even estimate when that overhaul, or the widening of Route 22, or other Decade of Investment projects will be done until the Legislature provides new annual revenue to pay for them.

Young could do no better than, "It will be reconstructed at some point in the future" depending on available funding.

You better keep that two-wheeler under the speed limit when you hit that section of ramp for the foreseeable future, Rick, hoping one of those tailgaters from behind doesn't run right up your tailpipe, so to speak.

As for the legislators, they should detour this gas-wholesaler nonsense and take the direct route: Increase the retail gasoline tax. A 10-cent boost would be almost unnoticeable, the way prices fluctuate anyway, and it would generate an estimated $600 million in new annual revenue — money that could be used to help avert a Minneapolis-style bridge collapse and that keeps pulling into the state coffers, year after year after year.

The good-news, bad-news story on the rippled asphalt surface at Cedar Crest and Tilghman: A contractor recently milled Cedar Crest at the intersection, a badly needed first step, and better yet, PennDOT contracted for the work to be done at night, detouring major delays for thousands of us warriors. However, that is part of a contract for the milling and repaving of a major portion of Cedar Crest, from Walbert Avenue nearly to Emmaus, all night work. That's great.

Inexplicably, neither Tilghman nor other cross streets that might be "carpeted" almost as badly will be addressed, according to Young. One would think the engineers who investigated conditions in developing the repair project would have the foresight to add the wavy asphalt on Tilghman to the contract. The continual stopping, and then acceleration, of vehicles at intersections make the approaches in all directions vulnerable to carpeting. Even an English major like The Warrior can figure that out.

Road Warrior appears Mondays and Fridays, and the Warrior blogs at mcall.com. Email questions about roadways, traffic and transportation, with your name and the municipality where you live, to hartzell@mcall.com, or write to Road Warrior, Box 1260, Allentown, PA 18105-1260.

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