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Lehigh Valley Planning Commission Holds Annual Data Release Event

By Colin McEvoy on December 7, 2018

The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission presented its report “evoLVe: What’s New. What’s Next.” on Dec. 5 at the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks.

The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission (LVPC) held its annual data release event on Dec. 5, highlighting development data, commuting and traffic information, and an equity analysis for the region in its report “evoLVe: What’s New. What’s Next.”

A total of 14.3 million daily vehicle miles are traveled in the Lehigh Valley every day, LVPC Executive Director Bradley told more than 100 people at the event, held at the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks in Bethlehem.

That figure is about 650,000 more miles per day than in 2012, and about 1.54 million more miles per day than in 2000. But misconceptions that traffic in the Lehigh Valley have increased by unusually high amounts in recent years are not correct, she said.

The number of daily vehicle miles traveled in the Lehigh Valley have only increased about 5 percent from the pre-Recession figures of 2007, Bradley said, which mirrors a roughly 6 percent growth nationwide in the same period.

“Even though everybody probably feels that traffic has doubled in recent years, these numbers show that we still had a lower growth rate than the U.S. overall,” she said.

The busiest road in the Lehigh Valley is Route 22, which sees 94,872 daily vehicle counts. The next-busiest is Route 33 with 83,572, followed by Interstate 78 with 75,389.

LVPC Executive Director Bradley speaking at the event.

LVPC Executive Director Bradley speaking at the event.

“For comparison purposes, the Schuylkill Expressway out of Philadelphia at its busiest point is handling over 200,000 vehicles per day with a lot less roadway width and miles than we have,” Bradley said. “So we still have a good and viable infrastructure. It’s not the beginning of the end.”

All of this transportation information is available on digital maps on the LVPC website.

The Lehigh Valley is growing at a rate of 4,000 new residents a year, and has shown a history of sustained growth of at least that rate for the last 70 years, Bradley said.

“We have been in a sustained period of growth for the entire second half of the 20th century and into the first decade and now beyond of the 21st,” she said. “That really changes how we live, work, shop, recreate, and the region has really evolved to try to meet those challenges.”

Apartment development has “surged” in the Lehigh Valley over the past decade, Bradley said. The region saw 482 apartment units over 23.6 acres approved in 2017, surpassing single-family houses (420 units in 2017) as the largest category of approved residential units.

“These development trends reflect a shift from home ownership to renting in the wake of the 2008 housing crash,” Bradley said. “From 2012 to 2016, the region lost nearly 5,000 homeowners, while we gained more than 6,500 renters.”

The Lehigh Valley saw a total of 1.7 million square feet of non-residential development approved in 2017 over 257.7 acres, Bradley said. Industrial development accounted for the most by far, making up 1.02 million square feet, or just over 59 percent of the total.

She attributed the majority of that industrial growth to the e-commerce and distribution explosion in the Lehigh Valley, noting that it accounts for 11.8 million square feet of the 13.1 million of proposed (not approved) industrial space in 2017 and 2018.

Don Cunningham, President & CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), has previously noted that not all buildings in industrial parks are simply warehouses, but are also manufacturing facilities and offices.

Other non-residential development included commercial (361,007 square feet), office (153,504 square feet), public/quasi-public (121,702 square feet), and retail (70,113 square feet). Most office development is spurred by the Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) in downtown Allentown, which has spurred more than 1 million square feet of office space, Bradley said.

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