Stroudsburg residents fight I-80 expansion
Stroudsburg’s residents are fighting plans to expand I-80, fearing that proposed changes will strain emergency response times and the local economy.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) plans to widen a 3.5 mile stretch of I-80 from four to six lanes and to remove several highway interchanges. Borough officials, emergency services personnel, and House Representative Tarah Probst spoke out against the project at a town hall meeting in early Nov.
WVIA News reached out several times to former Stroudsburg mayor and opponent to the project, House Rep. Tarah Probst, but did not get a response.
Borough Council President Matt Abell said officials held the meeting in a desperate attempt to get PennDOT to reconsider the project.
“It’s kind of our last ditch effort to come up with a sensible plan, a compromise that would not be so crippling to our town’s economy, but still improve safety throughout the corridor,” said Abell.
I-80 splits Stroudsburg in half, already limiting where developers can build businesses and residences, according to Stroudsburg’s Assistant Fire Chief Mehmet Barzev. He fears the borough’s economy will suffer after PennDOT takes part or whole properties from residents through eminent domain.
“It’s going to hurt our property values. It’s going to take properties off of the tax roles. So, those who are left standing are going to have to foot the bill,” said Barzev. “So, not only are our lives going to be disrupted from this construction project, our taxes are going to go up, our school taxes are going to go up, and our property values are going to go down.”
Borough officials worry that homeowners could lose up to 176 properties – a final take list has not been released yet. Abell said the state government is keeping his community in the dark.
“Y’know, we have little ability to plan ahead for this. And the same can be said for those homeowners,” said Abell.
However, Ron Young, a PennDOT press officer, said the department’s list is more conservative than residents realize.
“The 176 number isn’t the current number. That was taken from early on in design. This project has been going on for roughly a decade now in design. So, we feel we’ve done a good faith effort to significantly reduce the impacts to the properties along the whole corridor,” said Young.
As of Nov. 2023, PennDot plans to take part or all of 43 properties: 22 from Stroudsburg and 21 from Stroud Township, according to Young. He added that those numbers might change in coming months.
“Right now, they’re in the process of trying to get that number down to under 30 total – of what’s called a total acquisition,” said Young.
Besides concerns about property losses, borough officials said emergency services will suffer from PennDOT’s proposed changes. First responder Mehmet Barzev and his team will have to use longer routes to reach life-threatening emergencies.
“It’s going to add several miles to our response. So, if there’s an accident within Dreher [Avenue]...or if there’s a vehicle fire or if there’s something that requires us to be on 80-eastbound, we’re now going to have to go several miles past where we would normally access the highway,” said Barzev.
Dreher Avenue is at the heart of residents’ fears over I-80’s lane changes. Council President Matt Abell said responders will have to drive through the borough’s buzzing center to reach emergencies on Dreher Ave.
“Our EMS Coordinator estimates it’s going to increase response times by as much as 15 minutes. Which, y’know, in the case of a fire or a health emergency, could literally be life or death,” said Abell.
PennDOT’s Ron Young said travel time to the nearest hospital from Dreher Ave. can be expected to increase by around two minutes. He added that borough officials would need to provide documentation to show how EMS times would be significantly affected.
“They haven’t provided any analysis or data to prove that. It could be anecdotal, we don’t know. But we have engineers that ran analyses based on projected traffic volumes, the number of lanes, et cetera,” said Young.
Borough officials and residents also fear how the project will impact local streams. Barzev worries how PennDOT will change waterways in the planned project area.
“They’re rerouting a creek. Which we question the environmental impact of. I mean, we are known for our pristine waterways,” said Barzev.
Young said the project should not significantly affect the environment.
PennDOT’s 254-page plan for I-80 lists that over 9,000 linear feet of streams will likely be impacted. While some of these streams will be temporarily affected during construction, others will be permanently affected. Those permanently affected streams will be redirected to the Delaware River watershed through a process called stream mitigation. PennDOT has not released a final list of streams that will be impacted.
Developers will renovate I-80 in three sections. Each section will have a separate contract, meaning that developers can sign up to work on a specific part of the project. PennDOT’s anticipated let date – the date they will ask for contractors to make a bid to work on the project – is Dec. 2024. Until then, no construction can start on the project.