A proposed project to construct a long-desired high-speed interchange between Interstates 80 and 99 at Bellefonte got a major boost on Tuesday.
The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded a $35,110,410 grant for the project through the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) program, U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township, announced. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation had requested $43 million when it applied for the funding in 2017.
“This is tremendous news for Centre County and the region,” Thompson said in a statement. ‘This project has been in the works for more than a decade and it will finally move forward. This will have widespread benefits for the region and is a prime example of the good that can come from local, state and federal government working together and in coordination.”
The total project, which would include the interchange and improvements to Jacksonville Road/Route 26 to link to the interchange, is estimated to cost nearly $200 million. I-99 and I-80 would connect where Jacksonville Road intersects with Route 26 and at the turn from Route 26 to I-80. Route 26 would go under the interchange.
PennDOT, which made the project its only INFRA grant application for 2017, previously committed to provide $145 million in spike funding if the INFRA grant was approved. Some of that would be money PennDOT would have to spend on I-80 bridge replacements and safety improvements if the interchange is not constructed.
The Centre County Metropolitan Planning Organization (CCMPO) also approved a commitment of about $8 million for the Jacksonville Road work if the federal grant was approved.
Tom Zilla, CCMPO principal transportation planner, said he is confident that PennDOT will fulfill the remaining $8 million in funds not awarded in the federal grant. He added that the project received 80 percent of the request and that in past rounds of funding USDOT had previously only awarded 60 to 65 percent.
Local, state and federal government leaders, as well as area businesses and organizations such as Penn State, came together in 2017 to advocate for funding for the interchange, which in its current form can often be chaotic and sometimes dangerous. Safety and traffic have been key concerns driving the plans for the new interchange. The existing interchange can be troublesome and dangerous, with traffic getting backed up on the off-ramps from I-80 and on Route 26 during high-volume periods.
The Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County and other groups last year the ‘Drive Forward’ campaign was launched to advocate for funding for what those involved called a ‘once-in-a-generation’ opportunity.
That’s because the interchange isn’t constructed, bridge replacements and safety improvements will need to be completed at a cost of more than $40 million. Those improvements would then be expected to last for years to come.
Zilla said he is excited that the project seems like it will now move forward. It’s been a priority for CCMPO for 20 years.
INFRA grant projects are required to go to construction within 18 months of funds being obligated. Because the interchange had been planned for but not funded when the I-99 corridor was completed, some of the work is already done. PennDOT officials said last fall that it would take about a year for permitting and bidding, and the construction would take about two years.