Drivers forced to squeeze into single lanes last summer have described it as “a washboard” and “a pasture.” Orange traffic cones and a piece of construction equipment left on the shoulder are winter reminders that there’s more work to be done on the city’s busiest eastbound street.

Lebanon’s Walnut Street (Route 422 East) repaving project, which stretches east from 12th Street to 5th Avenue, began in the spring of 2019. The project was halted by the onset of cold weather, but will resume this spring and extend into 2021.

According to a Jan. 13 email from Lebanon Mayor Sherry Capello, Walnut Street repaving is just the first of a four-phase plan that will repave all of the city’s main east-west and north-south arteries. The first phase is Walnut Street, the second phase is Cumberland Street (422W), the third phase is 10th Street (SR 72 southbound), and the fourth phase is 9th Street (SR 72 northbound), according to Capello.

Capello said resurfacing dates for each consecutive phase are spring 2021, spring 2022, spring 2023, and spring 2024. In other words, motorists will have to wait until sometime next year for the entirety of Walnut Street to be a smooth ride.

The 1.5-mile Walnut Street portion is a “local lead” project being administered by the City of Lebanon, not by PennDOT, but is funded by the state.

Why so long to repave 1.5 miles of highway? Because the actual resurfacing is just the last part of the project. Underground gas and water lines have to be repaired or replaced first.

Utilities often put off non-emergency underground work, but in the event of an upcoming resurfacing project, that work has to be expedited.

Walnut Street looking west from 4th Street

“It makes sense for us to go in there and do that before repaving,” said Joe Swope, a spokesperson for gas company UGI. “The last thing you want to do is tear up a new surface.”

“It does create a short-term inconvenience because it extends the project,” said Swope. “But in the long-run, it makes sense from an economics and convenience standpoint.”

Swope said work stops when the weather gets cold, and that UGI still has to replace gas lines from 2nd to 4th Streets and from 11th to 12th.

“Our goal is to begin our work in early March or as soon as the City allows work to commence,” he added. “UGI’s work is expected to take three to four months to complete.”

Water lines are being replaced, too. The City of Lebanon Authority’s project director, Bob Sentz, echoed Swope’s take on the project. He agreed that underground line work becomes time sensitive when a resurfacing project is scheduled.

As in many older Pennsylvania cities, the water mains down Walnut Street are past their prime (Sentz estimates 50 to 70-years-old) and are more prone to leaks and breaks with every passing year.

“The Authority had originally planned to replace water mains from 12th Street to Lincoln Avenue by the end of 2019,” said Sentz. “But now that the repaving completion has been bumped to 2021, we plan on also replacing mains from Lincoln east to the city line at 5th Avenue.”

With three more major resurfacing projects after Walnut Street, including the underground utility work they will almost certainly require, drivers will likely experience inconvenient, bumpy rides for the next few years. On the plus side, Lebanon residents will ultimately benefit from modern gas and sewer lines.

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Chris Coyle writes primarily on government, the courts, and business. He retired as an attorney at the end of 2018, after concentrating for nearly four decades on civil and criminal litigation and trials. A career highlight was successfully defending a retired Pennsylvania state trooper who was accused,...


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