EASTON, Pa. – Almost everybody in the Lehigh Valley has an opinion about the region’s roads, and Northampton County Council is no exception.
Some councilmembers said during a committee meeting Wednesday that the Lehigh Valley Transportation study is short-changing Northampton County’s highways and byways.
“We will always get the short end of the stick” compared Lehigh County, Commissioner Kevin Lott said.
That was the short version of the argument, which involves a lot of acronyms.
The Lehigh Valley Transportation Study (LVTS) is the Metropolitan Transportation Organization (MPO) for Lehigh and Northampton Counties. The LVTS is affiliated with the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission (LVPC) and promotes policies in accordance with the TIP — Transportation Improvement Program.
Ignoring the alphabet soup, the LVTS steers federal money to road, bridge and other projects in the two counties. It works through a 25-year plan that allocates billions of dollars and is updated every four years.
What started out Thursday as a presentation on transportation by county Director of Public Works Mike Emili about $5 billion in transportation spending turned into a complaint session.
Council President Kerry Myers, 69, said he and Lott will not live to see the day Northampton County receives what he contends is its fair share.
“Kevin, we’re going to be dead before we get equality with this money,” Myers said to Lott during a capital project committee meeting.
County Executive Lamont G. McClure forecast a quarter-century of gloom.
“It’s never been fair, and it’s not fair out until 2049,” he said.
Becky Bradley, executive director of the LVPC, said federal rules guide how money is spent. Money is tied to measures such as road fatalities and injuries, congestion, the condition of bridges and more.
“The LVTS is required by federal law to prioritize based on those criteria,” she said.
Rules also require that if money goes toward a long, long project, such as the work on the Fullerton Avenue interchange on Route 22, and such a project is halted, all the money allocated for it goes back to the federal government. That makes sudden shifts in spending onerous.
Bradley said several projects are nearly complete, and that will free future funds for work in Northampton County.
Big issues in Northampton County include improving Route 22, the Airport Road corridor, the Route 33 and I-78 Interchange, the intersection of Route 22 and 191, and more.
Commissioner John Goffredo (councilmembers are known as commissioners) said Lehigh County is getting “disproportionately more” of the LVTS money, setting the imbalance at 65% to 35%.
Bradley said over time, the funding will move to equality.
Matt Assad of the LVPC said projects receive scores based on data, without bias. He also said that all 62 Lehigh Valley municipalities were asked to submit projects, and Lehigh County asked for more.
Bradley said the federal government has added a twist to the funding, with a rule that 40% of funds go into what are called “Justice40” communities that suffer disadvantages related to climate change, pollution, and socioeconomic address.
“We have poor people, too,” Goffredo said.
Commissioner John Cusick said the LVTS bylaws should be updated. Since they were set in the 1960s, townships — Bethlehem and Palmer, for example — that were rural and sparsely populated have grown.
He said the townships should gain more representation on the study.
The debate will continue.