Some projects still on hold due to outbreaks

Road Warrior: Coronavirus delays will continue for these four construction projects

Work on the Tilghman Street Bridge, seen here Feb. 27, 2019, will not restart yet due to the coronavirus project. The project has run into several delays over the past two years. (APRIL GAMIZ / THE MORNING CALL )

About seven weeks after pausing nearly all PennDOT construction in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, PennDOT started to return to normal (a bit) May 1 when it gave the green light for most construction projects to restart.

Some are already underway, including reconstructing Route 100. New projects will begin, too, including a $6.6 million improvement to Route 22 in Bethlehem and Palmer townships. To get to this point, contractors have had to craft social distancing plans that apply to each individual construction zone and address whatever situations exist at that location.

But Christopher Kufro, an assistant district executive at PennDOT, said Wednesday that four projects in the Lehigh Valley are still on hold because they’re in the center of large areas battling outbreaks. The projects have also created some concerns because social distancing in these locations would be difficult, he said. There is no timetable at this point for when they will begin.

I was a little surprised more projects aren’t on this list, such as the overdue Hamilton Street Bridge project by the Hamilton Family Diner.

Tilghman Street Bridge, Allentown

The Tilghman Street Bridge project has been saddled with problems from the start, first from subfreezing temperatures when work was supposed to begin and again when crews discovered the concrete substructure was in worse shape than expected. So of course it’s being delayed by the pandemic.

The $22.7 million construction project will rehabilitate the 91-year-old bridge, which crosses Lehigh River, a Norfolk Southern rail line, several city streets and some private residences. Crews will improve drainage, install better lights, redesign the road approach to the bridge and add curbs and sidewalks.

PennDOT still hasn’t backed off the original estimated completion date of June 2021, but I can’t imagine that’s realistic given all the problems so far. The Biblical plague the bridge hasn’t seen at this point is three days of darkness.

Traffic backs up over the Gordon Street bridge in Allentown Monday, March 2, 2020. Demolition of the 131-year-old bridge never got underway due to the coronavirus. (Tom Shortell | The Morning Call)

Gordon Street Bridge, Allentown

Unlike the Tilghman Street Bridge, which feels like it’s dragged on forever, the Gordon Street bridge construction never began. Work on the 131-year-old bridge was supposed to start March 16. You know, right around the time everything hit the fan.

The bridge carries 8,800 vehicles a day over the Jordan Creek and connects the city to American Parkway, one of spans across the Lehigh River still open in the city. The $3.3 million plan called for demolishing the bridge and building a new one in its place. It remains open in the meantime.

The bridge’s girders have thinned in the past 13 decades, which is a problem given its 19th-century design. Modern bridges have more than two girders so that if one breaks, the others will keep the span from collapsing. The Gordon Street Bridge doesn’t have that redundancy, which is a problem given its advanced age.

15th Street, Allentown

PennDOT had hoped to wrap up two years of safety improvements on 15th Street between Tilghman Street and Hamilton Street right about now. The $3.8 million project called for installing new traffic lights, crossing signals and upgraded pedestrian crossings.

The 13th Street interchange with Route 22 in Easton is seen on Friday May 8, 2020. (April Gamiz/The Morning Call )

13th Street interchange, Easton

Regional planners have tossed around some major redesign ideas for the 13th Street interchange with Route 22. Lately, they had been making more modest improvements, replacing the overpass and changing how the cluster of ramps directs traffic between the street and highway.

The $2.6 million of improvements will remain on pause, however, as PennDOT waits for conditions to improve with the pandemic. While the other three projects are in the center of the hard-hit Allentown, I suspect the dominant cause for the delay here is the cramped quarters that come with the lane closures involved in this project.

Morning Call reporter Tom Shortell can be reached at 610-820-6168 or


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