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Construction Starts on I-81 Bridges Over Susquehanna River Near Pa.-N.Y. Border

Wed July 19, 2023 - Northeast Edition #17
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation & CEG


Pre-construction work has gotten under way on the Interstate 81 Susquehanna Bridges project in northeastern Pennsylvania, a 9-mi. stretch of rebuilding and repair work along I-81 from New Milford Borough north to the New York State border.

On July 10, crews began preparing for the start of demolition and construction on nine structures, including the I-81 spans over the Susquehanna River. The work begins the first of five construction stages to be completed in 2028.

The total cost for the bridge, pavement and drainage system replacement is approximately $529.9 million, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). The state agency is partnering with Bridging Pennsylvania Developers I (BPD-I), a consortium of companies, to do the work.

The dual bridges over the river link the communities of Hallstead and Great Bend in Susquehanna County.

The two structures were originally built in 1961 and rehabilitated in 1979, 1993 and 2006. Combined, they carry about 27,000 vehicles per day, approximately 41 percent of which is truck traffic, according to PennDOT. The number of cars and trucks crossing the river at that location each day, though, is expected to more than double to around 55,000 by 2045.

In addition, PennDOT's decision to initiate the replacement project was to address aging pavement and infrastructure along I-81, including the twin bridges, and to lengthen on and off ramps to meet current interstate design standards and improve safety.

Most of the pavement in the corridor is nearly 60 years old, and the Susquehanna River bridges are approaching the end of their serviceable lifespan, the state agency noted.

PennDOT also listed other reasons for contracting the overall project:

  • All structures on the corridor were built with reinforced concrete that contained more chloride ion content than modern standards allow. While safe, this type of concrete has a shorter lifespan than most reinforced concrete used today.
  • PennDOT had concerns over the roadway's drainage as the original storm system built into much of the corridor has become aged.

The I-81 Susquehanna Bridges project involves a number of construction activities, the transportation department noted, including:

  • Repaving all roadway within the corridor.
  • Replacing five dual-bridge structures, including the Susquehanna River spans and one overpass structure.
  • Replacing the drainage system.
  • Replacing all guiderails, barriers and signage in the corridor.
  • Improvements to nearby Susquehanna Street, Pennsylvania Highway 171, and Pa. 1029/Randolph Road.

Both the northbound and southbound lanes of I-81 will be impacted, PennDOT noted, adding that motorists can expect two lanes of traffic to be maintained in both directions, except for limited single-lane closures which will occur during off-peak hours.

To handle the I-81 Susquehanna Bridges project, PennDOT contracted with BPD-I, comprised of Bridging Pennsylvania Constructors, H&K Group, a heavy civil contractor from Shippack, Pa., and Pittsburgh's Fay S&B USA Construction.

Some of the major subcontractors on the project include Westerville, Ohio's Kokosing Construction Co., Wagman Heavy Civil, from York, Pa., and lead designer, Michael Baker International, based in Pittsburgh.

PennDOT to Pay for MBP3 Plan Annually for 35 Years

The I-81 Susquehanna River Bridges project is one component of Pennsylvania's Major Bridge P3 (MBP3) initiative, approved by the state P3 board in November 2020, for the replacement or rehabilitation of nine major interstate bridges through a progressive P3 delivery model.

At that time, PennDOT planned to make annual payments to pay for the work and financing costs on these bridges using mandatory tolling, as was permitted by the Pennsylvania P3 law at the time. In 2022, however, Act 84, an amendment to the P3 law, eliminated mandatory tolling of existing free lanes. That prompted PennDOT to move the bridge projects in the MBP3 forward without tolling and pay for them using existing funds to make annual payments to the development entity over 35 years.




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