Lehigh Valley’s Economy Moves Forward with Transportation Assets
Amazon, Coca-Cola and Kellogg are sold on Lehigh Valley, and so are Crayola, Petsmart, Target, Walmart and zulily. And FedEx will soon join that list.
Some of the world’s largest companies have major distribution operations in Lehigh Valley, taking advantage of access to major highways including Interstate 78, I-80 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Northeast Extension. The two-county region in eastern Pennsylvania is served by two Class I rail carriers as well as an intermodal terminal in Bethlehem. Plans are in the works to expand freight rail access in the region.
Lehigh Valley International Airport provides commercial service, and the region is also in close proximity to Philadelphia International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport and the international service they offer. In addition, the Valley has a Foreign Trade Zone that allows raw materials for finished products to come in duty free.
In all, more than 25,000 people work in the transportation industry in Lehigh Valley.
“We are the perfect location from which to serve the huge consumer and business market of the northeastern United States, with about one-third of all U.S. consumers within a day’s drive of the Lehigh Valley,” says Don Cunningham, Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. president and CEO. “We also have available land, an available workforce, water and wastewater supplies and good infrastructure.”
The region is investing in its infrastructure. From 2017 to 2020, Lehigh Valley will commit $458 million of mostly federal money to work on roads, renovate bridges and upgrade its bus system. The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission’s Transportation Improvement Program details more than 60 infrastructure projects, including the widening of several highways and the reconstruction of about 30 bridges.
“Lehigh Valley is experiencing much growth in manufacturing, warehousing and logistics, which are all very dependent on transportation. Infrastructure improvements are essential to keep up with our growth,” says Becky Bradley, executive director of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.
The Transportation Improvement Program’s highest priority is the widening of U.S. Route 22, which will help support increasing industrial traffic in the Airport/MacArthur/Schoenersville roads area adjacent to Lehigh Valley International Airport. FedEx, after a three-state search, selected a site near Lehigh Valley International for a $300 million ground facility that will become its largest in the world.
The plan includes major upgrades for bridges, including the heavily traveled Tilghman Street Bridge in Allentown, Cementon Bridge in Whitehall Township and Hill-to-Hill Bridge in Bethlehem.
“We have a lot of water here in the Lehigh Valley that has attracted major water-usage companies like Sam Adams, Bimbo Bakery, Nestle and Ocean Spray, and where there’s a lot of water, you need bridges to cross over the water – and many will be repaired,” Bradley says.”
Taking the Wheel
Also serving the transportation sector is the Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority, or LANTA, which operates a network of 23 fixed-bus routes and 10 special routes. About $144 million of the Transportation Improvement Program will be spent to modernize LANTA route systems and purchase new buses.
LANTA provides more than 5.5 million rides annually. Owen O’Neill, LANTA executive director, points out that upgrades over the next four years will benefit everyone who appreciates and utilizes mass transit throughout the Lehigh Valley.
“We work closely with economic development professionals as well as municipalities and developers to make sure commuters have the best possible access to workplaces, shopping and other destinations,” O’Neill says.
One of those key destinations is a new Hamilton Crossings shopping center in Lower Macungie Township near Allentown.
“With several new stores, including large ones like Costco, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Target, Whole Foods and Nordstrom Rack, we anticipate a major increase in ridership,” O’Neill says.