PennDOT prepares to widen I-83 in North York corridor
Any commuter battling the morning traffic north to Harrisburg from York on Interstate 83 will describe the trek as nothing short of bumpy. It's crowded. It's stop-and-go. If there's a crash, commuters will be waiting … for a while.
The ride home at the end of the day isn’t any better.
Susan Haskins travels I-83 three times a week to get to and from doctor’s appointments and visit with friends. Though retired, the Swatara Township resident modifies her schedule - and route - to avoid traffic during peak time frames like the morning and evening commutes.
“I try to do whatever I need to do before 2 [p.m.],” she said. Even construction zones are of concern because, despite reduced speed limits, people are still in a hurry to get where they’re going.
“It can get pretty dangerous,” she said.
I-83 was not built to handle the traffic it sees today. Solutions are on the horizon, but they are time-consuming and costly.
To keep up with and handle today’s traffic flows safely – as well as tomorrow’s – the interstate needs to be redesigned, said Michael Crochunis, district press officer for Pennsylvania Department of Transportation engineering for York, Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon and Perry counties.
When I-83 was first constructed in 1958, it wasn’t intended to handle the kind of traffic volume seen in 2018. As the volume has increased, so has the need to maintain the durability of the roads. PennDOT has consistently had to patch pavement and repair bridges, Crochunis said.
“There wasn’t that much activity on the roadways when they were built back in the ‘50s … and now we’re managing it,” he said.
The North York corridor from the Market Street exit through the North George Street exit is especially tight. According to statistics provided by PennDOT, the average daily traffic heading north near the Market Street exit is 33,719 vehicles and 3,856 trucks. Heading south in the same area, the average daily traffic is 34,361 vehicles and 4,158 trucks.
But PennDOT’s upcoming plans include widening the five-mile stretch of the North York corridor from four lanes to six in a bid to improve safety and reduce congestion.
What’s proposed for Interstate 83?
Interstate 83 from Market Street (exit 19) through North George Street (exit 22) has high traffic congestion and tight corridors, but the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation hopes to change that. By improving the traffic flow with a design catered to 2018 as well as through 2042, motorists will be able to travel down a more functional and modern roadway.
Exit 22: North George Street
- I-83 will be raised over North George Street to meet today’s height standards for large trucks
- All traffic to northbound I-83 will use a new on-ramp constructed at Skyview Road
- A new on/off ramp will be added near Heidelberg Avenue
- Multi-lane roundabouts will be created to improve traf fic flow and reduce crashes at the interchange
- I-83 will be raised over Route 30/Arsenal Road to meet height requirements
- I-83 northbound traffic going east on Route 30 will use a new off-ramp constructed to Toronita Street
- There will be a new onramp for westbound Route 30 traffic looking to head south on I-83.
Exit 19, option 1: Market Street
- The interstate will be shifted east to minimize impacts to Mill Creek
- The interstate will be raised over Market Street to meet height restrictions
- All interstate southbound traffic will exit to either East Philadelphia Street or North Belmont Street
- Southbound exit ramp to Elmwood Boulevard will be removed
- Northbound traffic will use a new on-ramp constructed near Industrial Highway
- North Hills Road will be widened to two lanes north and two lanes south divided by a concrete median
Option 2: Market Street
- Northbound traffic will use new on-ramps constructed near East Philadelphia Street.
PennDOT has already performed a study and analysis of the corridor. Following a public meeting held in March, PennDOT proposed concepts for each interchange along the corridor and overall improvements.
Construction is estimated to cost between $275 million and $300 million and begin in November 2021, with completion slated for 2026. Because of the project’s size and cost, Crochunis said, it will be tackled in sections, which have yet to be determined.
One area to take into consideration for the North York corridor is Mill Creek, which has flooded the interstate in the past. Because of its proximity to I-83, combined with the need to utilize that space for widening, Mill Creek will need to be relocated, Crochunis said.
“Costs are also driven by the need to maintain two lanes in each direction while building the improvements,” he said.
What if PennDOT extended I-83 to six lanes all the way to Harrisburg?
While that might ease traffic congestion, the problem can’t be solved solely by adding a lane.
One of the top concerns is cost.
“We have been grossly underfunded for decades,” Crochunis said. “And we would expect the cost to widen and reconstruct I-83 to provide three lanes in each direction would be … approximately $2.5 billion.”
But money is not the only issue.
Because I-83 was not designed for 2018 traffic volume – or beyond – many bridges above the interstate do not have adequate clearance to allow large trucks to pass under. PennDOT has had to replace several to meet federal standards. There is also little to no median on I-83, which means new lanes along the mainline will be forced to the outside in each direction. That will, in turn, require reconfiguration of all interchanges.
Additionally, most existing on/off ramps are too short, so they would need to be extended to achieve current design standards, Crochunis said.
And when construction is taking place, drivers will often seek faster alternate routes, so those routes also need to be looked at to see what kind of volume they can handle.