Much like weather and air quality, transportation impacts virtually everyone. You don’t have to own a car to be frustrated by congestion or exhilarated by the beauty of a scenic trail. And in the Lehigh Valley, you can get your fill of both, whether it be on the 90,000 vehicle-per-day Route 22 or a D&L Trail that snakes through 21 municipalities in Lehigh and Northampton counties.
Traffic congestion in the Lehigh Valley is defined as high-density traffic flow in which speed and freedom to maneuver are severely restricted, and comfort and convenience have declined, even though flow remains stable.
Frequent vehicle crashes are a contributing factor in creating traffic congestion. The Lehigh Valley in 2016 experienced 168 major injuries and 61 fatalities. Infrastructure improvements to mitigate high crash corridors, as well as continued driver, cyclist and pedestrian education to improve traveling behavior, remain a focus of regional transportation planning efforts.
Navigating the Lehigh Valley
More than 100,000 residents commute outside the Lehigh Valley for work each day, contributing to an average daily commute time of 26 minutes region-wide. Northampton County residents, on average, have a slightly longer commute time than their neighbors in Lehigh County, largely because a higher percentage of them are traveling eastward along high-volume roads, such as Route 22 and Interstate 78, to the more metropolitan areas of New Jersey and New York City.
More Miles Every Year
As the Lehigh Valley continues to experience record growth, more residents, employees, and visitors make use of the region's integrated road network that connects the Lehigh Valley and its 62 municipalities as well as Eastern and Central Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and the greater Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. From 2015 through 2019, the Lehigh Valleys daily vehicles miles traveled has increased 1.6% each year on average.
The interactive map below gives a full picture of why it’s an interconnected transportation network. Alter one part and it’s going to affect another. That’s why the 6,100 vehicles that traveled along Tatamy’s Main Street in 2013 jumped to nearly 22,000 after the Charles Chrin Interchange was built in 2015, and why traffic along Tilghman Street in Allentown nearly doubled after the PPL Center opened and activity downtown grew. And why road construction on one major road typically pushes traffic to others. Here’s a look at the region’s busiest—not necessarily the most congested—roadways and how traffic on some of them has changed over the past decade. Click any point to see the average daily vehicles from multiple years.
Commuting in the Lehigh Valley
As a region, the majority of workers work within Pennsylvania, but over one-third of all workers, commute to areas outside of their county of residence for work. In Northampton County, 14% of workers work outside Pennsylvania, compared to 3.5% of Lehigh County workers.
The Lehigh Valley is sometimes called a bedroom community for the New York and Philadelphia regions, and there’s a grain of truth to that. More than 7,700 Valley residents work in Philadelphia and another 2,200 works in Manhattan. But, their central location in the Northeast makes Lehigh and Northampton counties part of a diverse commuting corridor that allows residents a wide radius for which to travel to work, while people from outside the region sometimes travel long distances to work here. Consider that in addition to those close to 10,000 people traveling to New York and Philadelphia, 78 Lehigh Valley residents work in Tioga County, and more than 1,300 Pittsburgh area residents come here to work. That’s diversity. And while Lehigh Valley drivers may find the wait on some of the region’s roads frustrating, their average daily commute of 26 minutes is less than the 33 minutes Philadelphians spend on the road and the 40 minutes it takes the typical New Yorker to get to work.
The Daily Drive
The following two interactive maps give a detailed picture where Valley residents are going to work, and where others are coming from to work here.
Alternative Modes of Transportation
The Lehigh Valley has a robust and growing trail network comprised of larger paths such as the D&L Trail, to smaller community trails, such as the Ironton Rail Trail or Karl Stirner Arts Trail. With more than 460 miles of land and water trails in place, the region continues to bolster the trail network by building new trails and closing gaps in the existing system to provide a more seamless network for recreation and commuting.
LANta operates the LANtaBus system, a network of 30 fixed bus routes throughout the Lehigh Valley, providing daily, later evening, Saturday and Sunday services. It also operates the LANtaVan system, which provides special door-to-door transportation services for people with disabilities and the elderly who cannot use the LANtaBus system. Passenger trips have been declining for the last 5 years, however annual passenger miles traveled have increased by 38%. This suggests that those using public transportation are commuting to destinations farther away than can be reasonably reached using alternate modes of transportation on the region's extensive trail network.
Multi-modalism is important now more than ever in the Lehigh Valley’s quest of achieving the region’s health, safety, mobility, air quality , quality of life, recreation, tourism and environmental goals.
Roads and Bridges
Maintaining the region’s bridges is essential for mobility. Closed and weight-restricted bridges result in detours and increased travel times.
Bridges classified as structurally deficient exhibit deterioration to one or more of its major components. In this region, higher order roads, such as interstates, have the fewest structurally deficient bridges, while lower order local roads have the most.
The plan to build and maintain the region’s roads and bridges, and operate its mass transit system, is known as the Transportation Improvement Program. In 2017, a total investment of $28 million for highway projects, $46 million for bridge projects and $34 million for transit projects was programmed as part of a four-year, $458 million program that runs through 2020. These investments help to maintain the current infrastructure, while building new projects to meet the demands of increasing traffic volumes. The Lehigh Valley Transportation Study, supported by the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, is the transportation investment planning arm for the region.
The Lehigh Valley’s location within a single-day’s truck delivery to more than one-third of all U.S. consumers has made it an attractive location for distribution centers that bring freight into the Valley. Expected growth in freight traffic will force planners to invest in the road network, while working to minimize the impacts to the overall quality of life in the region.
Photo courtesy of Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority
The Lehigh Valley International Airport is one of three airports in the region, but the only one providing both passenger air service and air freight service. LVIA served more than 750,000 passengers in 2021 and has become a major air freight hub for Amazon.com and Federal Express.
Two other airports, Braden Airpark and Queen City Airport, specialize in general aviation, serving as base to more than 130 small planes.