Lehigh Valley's Transportation Network Links With Global Markets

Distance is no obstacle in Lehigh Valley, where highway, rail and air connections help companies connect with customers and suppliers in major markets.

Kevin Litwin
On Thursday, December 19, 2013 - 11:33

When a house-sized transformer needed to be shipped into Lehigh Valley, the region had the infrastructure to accommodate the giant piece of machinery on its journey.

Located on the former grounds of Bethlehem Steel, the shortline Lehigh Valley Rail Management offers intermodal and carload services as well as oversized cargo transport to and from the area, allowing local firms to easily connect with national and international customers.

The rail line is just one asset that makes Lehigh Valley's convenient location 60 minutes north of Philadelphia and 90 minutes west of New York such a winner with manufacturers and distributors, including Amazon, Bridgestone, BMW, Walmart and others.

Good Connections

When the holidays roll around, festive marshmallow Peeps candies find their way to store shelves across the country after a journey that begins at the Just Born Quality Confections factory in Bethlehem. Just Born is one of the many companies that take advantage of the region's location within a day's drive of one-third of all U.S. consumers and half of all Canadian consumers.

Key transportation assets in Lehigh Valley include direct connections to interstates 78 and 80, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Northeast Extension and other major routes like U.S. 22, along with two Class I rail service providers, the Lehigh Valley Rail Management's intermodal terminal in Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley International Airport.

Served by four major carriers with nonstop flights to top travel destinations along the East Coast and Midwest, the airport draws about 130,000 passengers a year and recently completed a $7.2 million renovation of its main terminal.

Its services, which include air travel, air cargo and small-package handling, are critical to business.

“The strong increase in passenger traffic at Lehigh Valley International Airport has been encouraging,” says Charles R. Everett, Jr., executive director for the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority. "We look forward to continued growth."

The region is also located within 60 to 90 minutes of international airports in Philadelphia and Newark.

Expansion Plans

Located less than a mile from I-78, Lehigh Valley Rail Management's terminal at the Bethlehem Commerce Center offers parking for more than 1,200 truck trailers and 4.6 miles of track for intermodal shipments. It handles multiple trains seven days a week and provides space for transloading and storage in-transit, as well as full carload services.

In 2007, parts of the Lehigh Valley region were designated a Foreign Trade Zone, which allows companies to store merchandise as if it were outside U.S. boundaries. Goods located in the FTZ are not subject to customs duties and other tariffs and taxes. The FTZ allows for direct delivery from the ports into the zone, saving time and money and reducing customs processing fees for companies.

In 2013, several interested parties met to discuss the possibility of opening an inland port at the Bethlehem Intermodal Yard to handle shipments to and from the Port of Newark. Customs inspections could be conducted at the port, and it would connect via the Lehigh Valley Rail Management line to Norfolk Southern, a Class I rail carrier that moves freight across the U.S.

The intermodal terminal has capacity to support the additional traffic, says Pat Sabatino, general manager for Lehigh Valley Rail Management. In 2012, it added space for an additional 75 rail cars – and there's room to grow.

“We will continue to add capacity to better serve our existing customers and those companies that locate within the Bethlehem Commerce Center,” Sabatino says.

Lehigh Valley's well-connected transportation network and proximity to major markets recently attracted the attention of the world's largest retailer. In October 2013, Walmart announced plans to open its largest ever warehouse for filling online orders in the region. Located near the Bethlehem Commerce Center, the 1.2 million-square-foot fulfillment facility will employ up to 350 and allow the retailer to offer next-day delivery to customers in the Northeast to meet demand from its growing e-commerce business.



Kevin Litwin is the author of Crazy Lucky Dead and a freelance feature writer with a career spanning more than 20 years.