Turnpike's Scranton Beltway hearing postponed until next year

Dec. 6—The proposed Scranton Beltway project is delayed again and that means more waiting, frustration and anger for South Abington Twp. residents who live near the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

"We can't even tell you how (angry) we are," said Ann Tompkins, 70, who owns a home the beltway project might affect. "We're going on five years and already, I think, three people have passed away."

In the spring, when turnpike officials announced a previous delay, they hoped to unveil plans for linking Interstate 81 to the turnpike in South Abington and near Dupont by this fall, perhaps in October.

That didn't happen. The turnpike now says a public hearing will happen next year. As they did in the spring, turnpike officials again blamed regulations that require a stricter environmental review than previously expected.

"This process has added significant time, effort and layers of reviews and approvals from outside agencies. Because of that, we have had to alter our original schedule for this fall. We are currently anticipating a public hearing in 2023," turnpike spokeswoman Rosanne Placey said in an email. "We understand this may create further community consternation, and we are actively going through the EA (environmental assessment) process to streamline the process in any way possible. Additionally, we are focused on limiting any impact to properties and the environment."

At a news conference last month, Rich Roman, district executive for the state Department of Transportation regional office in Dunmore, said he expects the hearing to take place in the spring. PennDOT and the turnpike must work together on the project, which aims to divert traffic, especially heavy trucks, from increasingly congested I-81.

Tompkins and Daneen Reese, 70, another resident whose home might be affected, restated the complaint residents have voiced for years: Without knowing whose properties the beltway will affect, residents can't sell because buyers avoid uncertainty and can't spend heavily to upgrade homes.

"And who's going to pay the market price for a home?" Reese asked. "They're not going to do it. So it's lose-lose for us at this juncture."

Tompkins refuses to believe the turnpike has no idea which properties will be affected.

"If they're taking houses, at least let people know so we could plan," she said. "We've all been here for a very long time. I mean, my husband and I are in our house 45 years, and we're just so frustrated and upset. ... There's no way in hell that they don't know where this project is going to lead or how many homes are going to be taken."

Turnpike officials promise residents will be the first to know once that question is settled.

The turnpike commission decided in 2017 to pay Urban Engineers Inc. of Philadelphia $10 million for a preliminary design. The project is estimated to cost $170 million, with the federal government contributing about $40 million. In 2020, the commission paused the design because COVID-19 reduced driving and devastated turnpike toll revenues.

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