Business, Community Leaders Form Coalition to Push for Highway Projects
A group of local business, community and government leaders have formed a coalition to advocate for state and federal funding for two long-gestating, major highway projects in Centre County.
The Centre County Metropolitan Planning Organization (CCMPO) has been considering how to fund a a new high-speed interchange between Interstates 99 and 80 at Bellefonte as well as improvements to the two-lane stretch of Route 322 between Boalsburg and Potters Mills.
Both projects have been long-term priorities but funding has not been available. In recent months, however, they've taken on new life, particularly the I-80 interchange.
“Completion of these two projects will greatly improve and enhance Centre County’s transportation system to the benefit of our county and the surrounding region,” Jeff Luck, Patton Township supervisor and CCMPO chairman, said in a release. “We believe there is a brief window of opportunity to attempt to secure funding for the new interchange, while remaining committed to advancing additional improvements to Route 322.”
In September CCMPO took action to support a PennDOT application to the U.S. Department of Transportation's INFRA grant program, which provides discretionary funding for federal highway and bridge projects. PennDOT selected the interchange as the state's project for application and is seeking $45 million.
The federal grants are highly competitive, and grants and their requested amounts are far from guaranteed. The overall project, which requires additional improvements and construction on Route 26 and I-99, is expected to cost nearly $200 million. PennDOT would provide $145 million in spike funding if the INFRA grant is approved. Some of that would be money PennDOT would have to spend on I-80 bridge replacements if the interchange new interchange is not constructed.
CCMPO would commit about $8 million for the Route 26 access upgrades.
In support of the funding efforts, the Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County (CBICC) is launching “Drive Forward,” a campaign to garner support for the project.
Penn State, private businesses and community members are among those supporting the campaign.
CBICC President and CEO Vern Squier said both projects are vital for residents, businesses and the region. He noted the congestion and safety risks that occur at various times at both the current I-80 ramps and the two-lane 322 corridor.
Photo by Geoff Rushton/StateCollege.com
Bob Ricketts, president of the Central Pennsylvania Convention & Visitors Bureau Board of Directors, and Joseph Thomas, general manager of the Ramada Conference Center in State College, both said that the projects are needed because of the importance of safe and convenient travel to tourism in the area.
Backers of the projects have already met Centre County's legislative delegation and many local officials recognize the importance of the projects to the county's infrastructure, Dan Hawbaker, president and CEO of Glenn O. Hawbaker, Inc., said.
PennDOT must submit the application for and INFRA grant for the I-99/I-80 interchange by Nov. 2. The CBICC will provide a letter of support and will be encouraging others locally to do the same.
A special "Drive Forward" website will launch soon to educate the public about both projects and their funding challenges, as well as providing status updates and engagement and outreach opportunities.
Photo provided by CBICC