St. Luke’s University Health Network Celebrates Major Road Improvement Project
By Colin McEvoy on August 27, 2015
St. Luke’s University Health Network today celebrated the completion of the first phase of a more than $30 million improvement and expansion to Freemansburg Avenue in Bethlehem Township, a project that will improve access to health care and contribute significantly to the economic growth and development of the area.
“What we have here is one of the greatest public-private partnerships in our region, involving Bethlehem Township, PennDOT and St. Luke’s, to develop a plan improving the infrastructure along the Freemansburg Avenue corridor, and making it work not only today, but to work in the future as well,” said D. Martin Zawarski, Bethlehem Township commissioners chairman said to more than 150 people during a ceremony outside the St. Luke’s Anderson Campus, along Freemansburg Avenue.
The first phase of the project, completed last week, consisted of widening the road west of the Freemansburg bridge to Farmersville Road. New traffic signals, drainage systems and ADA-approved sidewalks have been installed, all pole-mounted utilities were relocated underground, and more than twenty sink holes were repaired.
The total project, which will be completed in three stages, is expected to conclude in December 2017. It includes the rebuilding of the Freemansburg bridge, the reconstruction of Route 33 on- and off-ramps, and a further widening of Freemansburg Avenue from the bridge to Kingsview Ave. The bridge will be widened from five to eight lanes.
“Health care remains the region’s leading sector in terms of job creation, and the growth of St. Luke’s University Health Network has been a big factor in driving the economic engine for the Lehigh Valley,” said Don Cunningham, President and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC).
The first phase cost $15 million and was primarily funded by St. Luke’s. In total, the health network is investing more than $28 million into the total project, with additional proceeds coming from $6 million of combined state and federal grants for economic growth projects.
“The impact of this public and private partnership has resulted in the advancement of economic growth and increasing access to health care in our community,” said Richard Anderson, St. Luke’s President & CEO. “This road project represents a cooperative effort funded largely by St. Luke’s in combination with state grants and a contribution by KRE to improve the transportation system that ultimately feeds the local economy.”
The bridge expansion will benefit all current and future development in the area, and also serve to improve traffic flow and access to services to area residents, including the newest Bethlehem Township residents moving into the luxury apartments at Madison Farms.
Infrastructure improvements were needed due to the thriving Anderson Campus, which opened in November 2011 and quickly exceeded expected volumes by 60 percent in its first eight months of operation, according to St. Luke’s.
As a result, St. Luke’s undertook a $4.5 million expansion project at the campus, increasing the number of treatment rooms from 17 to 32, and doubling the size of the emergency department by April 2013. The unfinished fourth floor was also completed to meet patient volume, increasing the total patient bed capacity from 72 to 108.
“St. Luke’s stepped up to the plate to finance significant changes to Freemansburg Avenue, taking on more infrastructure expense than was required to build the first phase of St. Luke’s Anderson Campus,” Zawarski said. “Instead of only doing what was required, St. Luke’s agreed to the full build-out of Freemansburg, including the widening of the bridge, preferring to do it once upfront and to do it right.”
The need to expand Freemansburg Avenue also necessitated by a major roadway developing predating the Anderson Campus: the southern extension of Route 33 to Interstate 78, which opened up transportation along the major roadways and interchanges off Route 33, and opened the door to economic development, job growth, and access to health care.
More than 15,000 vehicles travel Freemansburg Avenue daily, according to Michael Rebert, district engineer with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
In 2003, when St. Luke’s was planning the Anderson Campus, they entered into a master development agreement with Bethlehem Township to address improvements to the existing infrastructure. This included a plan to improve the major infrastructure along Freemansburg Avenue, involving the road, sewer and water systems.
Due to the complexity of the project, it took five years to develop a plan, with St. Luke’s closely working with Bethlehem Township engineers on the expansion project.
“The road project follows a history of St. Luke’s and Bethlehem Township working closely together,” said Charles Saunders, chairman of the St. Luke’s board of trustees. “That includes acquiring 500 acres of land; building a hospital, medical office building and cancer center; expansion of the emergency room two years after the hospital opened; fitting out the hospital’s fourth floor medical-surgical unit to accommodate the patient volume years before projected; partnering with Rodale Institute to create the St. Luke’s Rodale Institute Organic Farm; and the creation of jobs through the construction and employees at the campus.”
Bethlehem Township is the third-largest municipality in Northampton County, with nearly 25,000 residents, and township growth is estimated at 12 percent over the next 10 years. As a result, the Freemansburg Avenue corridor will be increasingly important for residents to seek access to entertainment, shopping, and health care, Zawarksi said.
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