What do you do when you're told to detour, but there's practically nowhere left to go?
Saucon Valley and Bethlehem residents who rely on Route 412 to get to work, to school--and in emergencies to a doctor or hospital--may have asked themselves this question during two recent incidents that clogged 412 traffic north and south of the I-78 interchange on the border between the two municipalities.
The first incident occurred July 21, . No one was seriously injured, but 12 cars were destroyed by the fast-moving blaze. And considering that the fire broke out amid gasoline-filled vehicles, the outcome could have been much worse.
Although the fire was extinguished relatively quickly, , which bottlenecks to one bumpy lane in each direction between the interstate and the "big bend" at the Shimersville Road split in the City of Bethlehem.
A widening of the road is planned in this area, but it's far from being completed, and the emergency response necessitated by the fire backed up traffic on the north side of the interstate all the way to Lynn Avenue, or about a mile-and-a-half.
That may not sound bad, but when you consider how few alternate routes exist in the area, the potential for worse outcomes becomes clear.
The alternate routes that do exist--including Creek Road and Millside Drive/Fire Lane--are narrow, winding roads that were never intended to carry significant amounts of traffic. And the traffic that now regularly backs up on Route 412 includes .
In light of how insufficient much of the infrastructure in the area is, why improvements to Route 412 between 78 and Sands were not timed to coincide more closely with the casino's opening, I will never understand.
Perhaps, however, we should be grateful that the road work hasn't been done yet, if what is planned is to be of the same quality as some of the road work already completed on Route 412 near the casino.
On July 25, just four days after the first incident occurred, . Some areas--including nearby Bethlehem Township--were particularly hard hit, experiencing flash flooding that caught motorists off guard and led to cars being stranded in major roadways.
In Bethlehem, at the Sands Boulevard intersection directly in front of the casino, ponding in the southbound, righthand lane of the recently widened section of Route 412 was so severe that motorists had to abruptly form a single lane in order to avoid driving through standing water. I would have snapped a picture of this minor flooding, had the torrential downpour and chaotic traffic through which I was trying to navigate not made documentation practically impossible.
Thankfully, further south and just past the Shimersville Road traffic light, the Saucon Creek did not overflow its banks--but it could have, at a time when a line of cars would have been stopped on 412 with few places to divert to.
Rush hour traffic on 412 south now backs up to a point beyond the low-lying Saucon Creek bridge just about every day, and the creek in that area has a history of producing flash floods that threaten lives and property.
Is a flash flood on a traffic-clogged Route 412 a worst case scenario? Perhaps, but it's not an impossible scenario, either.
A few weeks ago, no one would have predicted that twin accidents within hours of each other on I-78--one (fatal) in the westbound lanes and one in the eastbound lanes--would have simultaneously closed the interstate in both directions in Lower Saucon. .
If anything, the recent events involving traffic backups around and along the Route 412 corridor have demonstrated that there is more going on than what might be termed the "garden variety" inconveniences associated with high traffic volume. And when you consider all of the hazardous materials transported through the area on a daily basis by trucks on I-78 and rail lines that converge in South Bethlehem, 412's inadequacies from a public safety standpoint become more glaring.
This is why the state should seriously consider completing planned improvements that will ease congestion as expeditiously as possible.
While they're at it, let's hope that they also fast-track restoration of a much-needed alternate route out of Hellertown and Bethlehem--and away from Route 412--that existed when and High Street bridges were open.
The loss of egress via High Street/Seidersville Road was a blow to motorists in the area, .
One resident of the area, who posted a comment to , cited difficulty in getting help during an emergency as a concern.
"We rely on the Bethlehem PD, fire department and ambulance," wrote JoAnne Stull. "I can tell you for a fact that they already have issues getting to this part of Seidersville Road. I had to call an ambulance a few years ago (before any of the bridges were closed) and it took them a very long time to get here."
The state is making some positive steps to improve road safety in the area, such as with . However, with congestion that's unacceptable and growing worse, the officials whose duty it is to implement necessary roadway improvements that will ensure public safety along the Route 412 corridor must work smarter and faster.