State Will Fund 'Missing Link' Highway Between Seven Mountains and State College
After being shelved for more than 15 years because funding was pulled, efforts are moving forward to connect the Seven Mountains area and State College with a four-lane highway.
Joined by state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, and state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, Gov. Tom Wolf announced in Boalsburg on Wednesday that the state has committed funding to complete what has been known as the "missing link" of Route 322.
The total project cost is an estimated $670 million and it will take about eight years before construction begins in 2027 on the long-awaited, 13-mile connection.
"This is a complex and significant project that’s going to take coordination with local communities, businesses and others as we work through the design, utilities and all the right of ways," Wolf said.
Karen Michael, PennDOT District 2 executive, said that once construction begins work will be done in sections and likely will take about three years.
Funding for the project will come from PennDOT discretionary funds established through Act 89 of 2013. An initial $5 million is committed for preliminary engineering, and Wolf said planning will involve extensive involvement of the community and local governments.
Wolf said the federal government had committed to funding the project but has not followed through, so the state has decided it will provide funding. He said he hopes that federal officials ultimately recognize the importance of the project and commit funding.
"In the absence of federal investments we were all counting on, PennDOT is committing discretionary funding to make the project a reality without changing the overall transportation project plans," Wolf said. "I can’t tell you how disappointed I am that the federal government continues to shirk its responsibility to adequately address these needs, but in the meantime I’m making this commitment to the people of Centre County and that travel to Centre County. This is an important project for all of Pennsylvania… and that’s why we’re moving ahead."
The project has been long-desired in Centre County and for those who travel through the area. When completed, it will improve both the ability to travel in and out of the State College area — essentially completing a four-lane highway all the way between the Centre Region and Harrisburg area — and improve safety. The current two-lane stretch between Seven Mountain and State College has seen numerous accidents over the years.
"This project is of great importance for Centre County, for the thousands who travel this road every day and for the hundreds of thousands who travel this stretch throughout the year," Corman said. "The safety enhancements that will be achieved through this project are vital for our growing community. In addition to improving the quality of life, these long-awaited upgrades also will provide a significant boost to our local economy as it makes the area even more attractive to employers.”
Wolf noted the importance of adequate transportation infrastructure for the growing Centre County economy and for a top international university in Penn State.
"State College is right in the center of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania is right in the center of the richest market in the United States, maybe the world," he said. "But beyond that you have Penn State, you have all the great things that are happening in this area. We need to connect this area more seamlessly. We’re a knowledge-based economy. The 21st century economy depends on what we have here in State College. If I were a federal planner I would want to do everything in my power to connect places like this to the rest of the world."
Several much-debated routes were studied for the four-lane connection before the project was scrubbed in 2004 when funding was pulled. Michael said planning will now pick that study back up and continue through to design a route with community input.
"We will have to have a lot of public involvement going forward because you’re going to have to get buy-in and consensus no matter what alternatives you look at," Michael said.
The renewed efforts began in 2017, when PennDOT undertook a refresh of environmental, traffic and safety data for commercial development and community needs for a corridor involving Route 322, Route 45, and Route 144. Preliminary data from showed that from 1999 to 2016, truck traffic has increased 37 percent.
Benninghoff and Corman said the project will benefit not only Centre County, but also Mifflin County and the rest of central Pennsylvania.
"I feel as a legislator we have to do what’s best for our commonwealth, what’s best for the common good of our people," Benninghoff said. "This is a major investment and commitment to the quality of life not only here in Centre County but the whole of central Pennsylvania."
The connector is the second major highway infrastructure project planned for Centre County over the next decade. Last year, a high-speed interchange for Interstates 80 and 99 secured $35 million in federal funding. Benninghoff noted that more than $1 billion will be invested in major highway projects for the region.
The missing link project, meanwhile, will build on the three-phase Potters Mills Gap project between the Centre/Miffllin County line and Route 144 at Potters Mills. That has extended the four-lane highway and will create a new interchange at Route 144. It is scheduled for completion in 2020.
The new project will complete the four-lane highway from there into State College.
In addition to the absence of federal funding, Corman said legislators believed that after the passage of Act 83 in 2013 the state would fund the missing link, but then Gov. Tom Corbett declined to do so.
"It was so important we just kept at it," Corman said. "Finally we got an ear that was willing to commit to it and that was Governor Wolf. The governor inherited this commitment from other administrations and he is the one that’s going to fulfill it."