Increase in Truck Traffic on Area Interstates

LACKAWANNA COUNTY, Pa. -- Northeastern Pennsylvania has become a hub for e-commerce distribution. Our area is one of the places from where online orders are shipped. While it's helping drive our local economy, the effect it has on our roads is driving people crazy.

You can see the effects of northeastern Pennsylvania's changing economy along Main Street in Taylor. A few times a week, the Taylor Police Department does spot safety inspections on big rigs riding through town.

The Taylor police chief says they'll be doing more of this since development planned for the borough could quadruple the number of tractor-trailers passing through.

Drivers tell us they've also noticed an increase in truck traffic.

"I'm a little bit more careful, and I give them more space, and I try to let them in when they want to, but I do notice some of them fly by. I won't mention any names," Ron Champoux said.

"The road is just too small for all the heavy vehicles going down the road. That's why you're having more accidents and everything like that. It's just too congested," said Mike Gobbler.

Drivers say it's tough out there for the little guy.

"Because it's scary when you have this big thing bigger than you, it just comes out at you," said Melissa Hampton. "I hope they help us out a great deal, because right now the way things are, it's a hot mess."

While there are more trucks on American roads, there are more of us, too. According to the Federal Highway Administration, Americans traveled more than 3 trillion miles on the interstate system in 2018 -- a 12 billion-mile jump from the previous year.

"There's a lot more demand on our infrastructure, very indicative of a strong and very robust economy, and we know the desire and the demand for cargo and delivery services really contributes to that overall number," said Brandye Hendrickson, a deputy administrator with the Federal Highway Administration.

Hendrickson says our reliance on cargo delivered by trucks is coming at a bad time.

"Our roads and bridges across the country are coming to retirement age, especially on our interstate system, the interstates being the backbone of the American economy."

It's a national problem that's being felt especially in northeastern Pennsylvania, with more miles of interstate than any other part of Pennsylvania.

"There is no way, going back to the 1950s when they were designing the interstate system, that anybody could have foreseen what impact the internet and online shopping would ever have to the truck traffic," said PennDOT spokesperson James May.

May says a scheduled reconstruction of Interstate 81 is expected to help improve road conditions, and PennDOT is building in a solution to tractor-trailer-related traffic.

When I-81 is rebuilt, likely around 2028, much of the highway in Lackawanna County will get a third lane in each direction.

The increase in truck traffic is driving many of PennDOT's future projects.

"We're seeing a lot of industrial parks coming in, with those, a lot of truck traffic. We're always looking to see where are the areas we need to adjust resources because of the increase in traffic, specifically truck traffic," May said.

Economic experts say there is about $7 million worth of industrial park development planned for northeastern Pennsylvania just this year.

Sharing the road with big rigs is becoming a necessary evil.

"We all like the services that trucks provide for us, but we don't want trucks on the roads with us, and you can't have both, unfortunately," May added.

A long-term solution to this new reality may be miles off in the future.

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