PITTSTON TOWNSHIP – State transportation officials said they have an idea that could take 25,000 cars and trucks off of Interstate 81, and divert the vehicles onto the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
At a maintenance facility near Pittston, PennDOT and Turnpike officials unveiled their plans for a year-long study on the feasibility of adding to high-speed interchanges.
One interchange would be located south of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport, and the other would be north of Clarks Summit, at the end of the Northeast Extension of the turnpike.
Turnpike CEO Mark Compton said if the interchanges are built, drivers would not need to stop at tollbooths, even if they do not have E-ZPass.
"You`d be able to pay your toll through what’s called video tolling, which is a picture of your license plate will be taken, and a bill will be sent to the owner of the vehicle,” said Compton.
Officials said the year-long study is expected to cost $500,000, and it will determine if the idea will work, where the interchanges could be built, and how much the toll would be to bypass around Scranton.
T.J. Amico of Dallas said he drives on I-81 daily and he thinks a lot of local drivers would pay a small toll to avoid congestion or construction backups.
"People use what’s easily accessible. If the Turnpike was more easily accessible, I think they`d probably take advantage of it,” said Amico. “Right now I-81 is quick on, quick off and its over-traveled.”
Nick Ferrigno of New Jersey told Newswatch 16 that he doesn’t think many out-of-state drivers would pay a toll to avoid I-81 in the Scranton area.
“Probably not; it`s inconvenient and it’s just another 4 dollars out of the pocket,”
State Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch said the Scranton Bypass idea is a worthwhile investment that could attract new businesses to the region.
"If they see routine congestion, if they see inadequate access they`re going to choose somewhere else,” said Schoch. “This is going to improve the competitiveness of this corridor.”
If state officials move forward with the plan, construction could start in 2018, but it’s unclear how much the project would cost.