Changes Coming on Interstate 81?

DUNMORE, Pa. -- Drivers describe rush hour on Interstate 81 as "very frustrating," "bottlenecking, hectic, a pain in the neck" and "absolutely horrible."

"Going to work, and if you are on a deadline for something, it makes it very hard for everyone," said Lana Belcastro of Old Forge.

It's a common scene both north and southbound. Whether it's roadwork, a crash, or just plain too many cars and trucks on a four-lane highway, backups on 81 are becoming a way of life.

Cars and trucks lined up like a parking lot on the interstate, especially in the section between Nanticoke and Clarks Summit.

"Just traffic jams. Last week, it took me an hour to get home. Traffic crawling at 15 miles an hour," said Jonathan Dutter of Hanover Township.

Drivers wonder if and when something will be done to clear up the constant slowdowns on Interstate 81.

"Sometimes accidents, but then there is a lot of people that are taking a Sunday drive," said Gary Park of Larksville.

PennDOT recognizes the issue. The agency's traffic experts can track stopped traffic and slowdowns daily at their command center in Dunmore.

PennDOT spokesperson James May says Interstate 81 in the Scranton area is the busiest highway in our viewing area with tens of thousands of cars and trucks traveling daily.

"It is coming to the end of its life cycle, so we are looking at the probability of reconstruction," said May.

The interstate was built 50 years ago, so it was not built for the volume of cars it sees today. PennDOT officials tell Newswatch 16 they want to add a third lane or have more drivers use the turnpike.

"We will have traffic on two of the three lanes while we are replacing the center lane so then when we are done, it ends up with a three-lane road," May said.

May says the Pennsylvania Turnpike is an underutilized area. According to PennDOT, there are only 10,000 cars on that stretch a day versus 80,000 on Interstate 81.

"When we look at that, anything we can do to move the traffic over there is going to  help free up some of the traffic congestion."

The turnpike can relieve only some of the congestion because it's not really a good alternative for cars and trucks that are heading towards Interstate 84 and New England.

Adding more lanes on Interstate 81 would help, but PennDOT says that's easier said than done.

"There are 67 bridges between Clarks Summit and Nanticoke, and a lot of people don't realize there are so many bridges."

This summer, PennDOT will be studying sections of 81 to see where extra lanes could be added but drivers might not see any major changes to the highway for at least five years.

"Unfortunately, that's the way it is. I still have to get to work," said Dutter.

Expanding 81 has been talked about for decades, but any plans for adding lanes remain in the talking stage, so until further notice, it appears daily traffic buildups on Interstate 81 are just something we are all going to have to learn to live with.

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11 comments

  • peatermoss

    Back ups are not all the way to Clark’s Summit, the back ups dissipate drastically at the 380 split, so any work to use eminent domain to do more work on the turnpike will be a waste.
    No one wants to pay more to travel, many take Rte. 33 to Allentown to avoid the tolls, and people will still use 81 to avoid tolls from Pittston to Clark’s Summit.
    Taking the turnpike vs. 81 is only a 2 mile difference, and not worth the added exspense.

    • E

      Ha ha ha! So you really believe that there were no traffic jams in your slum before the rise in popularity of cell phones? It is a fact that your area is full of uneducated, pill addict now turned heroin addict, chain smoking, alcoholics. The constant news articles regarding automobiles plowing into buildings, in YOUR burned out coal slum, is directly proportional to the rise of heroin use in your area and the reason NO ONE knows how to drive. Ha ha ha! You tried blaming cell phones for a long standing problem in your community lol. Do you also blame transplants from NY/NJ for the decades of mounting issues that the locals have been creating for generations?

      • lickerblisters

        I don’t live there dumb dumbs. I would rather roll around naked in a bathtub full of razorblades and shards of glass while violently sodomizing myself with a weedwacker than I would to live in the Scranton/Wilkesbarre area!

    • E

      Why would any company invest in infrastructure in a region that is full of damaged, aggressive poor people? Lol. Your community surely can’t afford it and no one outside of NEPA cares about a slum full of mouthy as*holes with a cigarette dangling from their lip. 😂😂😂😂😂

  • Norman Vincent

    The turnpike is under utilized? The turn Pike does not take you to all the same places 81 does. And maybe people just do not want to pay to use the turn Pike.