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I-81 Interchange and Navy Way Road Extension

A $43.2 million roadway project improves mobility and safety, while increasing opportunities for economic development.
  • Aerial view of the project area featuring three roundabouts and I-81 - Gannett Fleming.

    Roundabouts seamlessly usher traffic on and off of I-81, while reducing congestion and improving mobility.

  • Ground-level view of the completed Navy Way Road - Gannett Fleming.

    The mile-long Navy Way Road provides access to the local airport and industrial parks.

  • Construction of the geosynthetic-reinforced soil slope, showing side view of the slope fill - Gannett Fleming.

    The design of the 50-feet-high geosynthetic-reinforced soil (GRS) slope made the new Navy Way Road possible.

  • Ground-level view of cars and trucks using a multilane roundabout - Gannett Fleming.

    Multilane roundabouts calm and control traffic by requiring reduced speeds and enabling easier decision-making.

Client
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) District 4
Partner(s)
Pennsy Supply, Inc.–Northern Region; Borton-Lawson Engineering, Inc.; Dawood Engineers, Planners, Surveyors; Arrow Land Solutions
Location
Pittston, Pennsylvania
Our Role
Design, Preliminary Engineering and Studies, Geotechnical, Structural, Traffic, Permitting, Construction Services.
Data
Size:
198 acres
Construction Cost:
$43.2 million
Completed:
2016
Type:
New Construction
Duration:
3 years 4 months
Outcomes
  • Improved safety by correcting outdated and substandard interchanges
  • Reduced congestion and wear and tear on local roads
  • Increased economic development through improved access to airport and industrial parks
  • Improved traffic flow through the installation of three multilane roundabouts.

If two words could describe the Interstate 81 (I-81) Interchange and Navy Way Road Extension project, they would be community-altering. The effort to reconstruct the Avoca and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Airport interchange in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, and construct a new mile-long access road, was undertaken to improve safety and promote economic growth. In 2015, the initiative was one of two Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) District 4 capacity-adding projects and one of the largest across the state. 

Key elements of the project involved combining multiple off ramps from both I-81 southbound and northbound into one; installing three roundabouts that guide traffic to the airport, state Route 315, and the surrounding community; rehabilitating and widening four bridges; constructing two new bridges; repaving a 1.5-mile stretch of I-81; building the mile-long Navy Way Road that travels through the airport property and connects I-81 to the industrial parks; and replacing substandard access ramps. With more than 93,000 vehicles traveling through the I-81 corridor each day, the infrastructure improvements serve both travelers and local residents, who benefit from reduced congestion and improved mobility and roadway capacity.

What We Did

As lead designer, Gannett Fleming spearheaded the effort to transform the transportation landscape of communities in northeastern Pennsylvania. In the past, trucks accessing the nearby industrial parks from the PA Turnpike and I-81 utilized two lane roads on steep grades through residential neighborhoods. This situation caused concern within the adjacent neighborhoods because, in addition to the wear and tear and increased noise, the trucks had difficulty stopping at the numerous signals and stop signs on the steep grades.

Gannett Fleming’s designs called for the reconstruction of the I-81 exit, improving acceleration and deceleration lanes, eliminating tight curves on ramps, correcting short weave distances between ramps, and adding decision-making time for drivers. To accomplish this, the design team integrated three roundabouts to seamlessly usher traffic to and from the interstate. When designing Navy Way Road, Gannett Fleming had to coordinate with the Federal Aviation Administration to avoid impacting the MALSR tower and Airport Operations and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to avoid impacting natural resources. Overcoming these hurdles, we were able to successfully design the one-mile extension to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport and two industrial parks. The new connection helps to spur economic development in an area suffering from decades of job and population loss because of the decline of coal mining and industrial activity. The ability to improve safety while promoting development sets this project apart from typical roadway investments that focus mainly on improving the existing roadway conditions.

Key Features

  • Three multilane roundabouts accommodate traffic complexity and divert traffic from local roads
  • A two-tier underground detention system of approximately 10,700 square feet keeps the portion of the Navy Way Road that runs through the airport property free of standing water
  • The two new interchange ramps for north- and southbound I-81 reduce the likelihood of truck drivers veering out of their lanes when turning
  • Combining the southbound 178A exit and the northbound 178B exit into the new 178 exit reduces driver confusion and improves safety
  • New traffic patterns offer improved residential access to the major I-81 corridor
  • Fill for a geosynthetic-reinforced soil slope along Navy Way Road was placed outside of the standard 2:1 ratio, at a .67 to 1 slope, demonstrating engineering innovation.

Sustainability Features & Outcomes

  • Ignited economic development in communities suffering from decades of job and population loss
  • Used roundabouts in place of traditional signaled intersections, which are energy-free and require minimal upkeep, thereby reducing electricity and maintenance costs
  • Developed a clay liner system to eliminate water infiltration, contain water in the channels and basins, and prevent it from flowing into the area’s mine voids and subsequently into adjacent homes
  • Rebuilt a 236.5-foot-long pedestrian bridge spanning I-81 to offer residents a safe way to connect the community of Avoca and improve neighborhood walkability. 

Awards & Recognition

  • Diamond Award, 2017, American Council of Engineering Companies of Pennsylvania, Diamond Awards for Engineering Excellence.

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