Harris Township residents, officials want to have voice in U.S. Route 322 corridor planning

mcarroll@centredaily.comMarch 11, 2014 

— Harris Township supervisors want to be heard in the planning process for a possible new U.S. Route 322 corridor being discussed as part of a larger project to increase safety between Seven Mountains and Boalsburg.

“The central message is highways do more than move cars and trucks, they shape communities,” said Supervisor Christopher Lee. “And Harris Township wants to be at the table when the design is being considered — not when the design is being presented, but when it’s being thought through.”

Lee delivered that message Monday to Trish Meek, of the Centre Regional Planning Agency, who was attending a regular supervisors meeting to update the panel on the status of the Potters Mills Gap project.

The project will address the especially dangerous Potters Mills intersection with state Route 144, widen a 3.75-mile stretch from Seven Mountains into four lanes, and create western and eastern interchanges for local traffic.

Gov. Tom Corbett signed a transportation bill in November that will provide $2.3 billion in new funding annually within five years, and $761 million of the money has been earmarked for Route 322 improvements.

The Potters Mills Gap project is the first step, but further down the line, the state could address the idea of a new Route 322, possibly a four-lane, limited-access highway through Potter and Harris townships.

Such a plan was included in the controversial South Central Centre County Transportation Study, a five-year project that ended in 2004. It proposed a four-lane highway connecting Route 322 to the Mount Nittany Expressway or to Interstate 99 near Pleasant Gap to reduce traffic congestion.

Before funding issues curtailed the study, public input helped narrow the potential routes to eight, including some that basically followed the same path as the present Route 322.

Harris Township residents, who packed into the supervisors’ meeting Monday, raised concerns about a possible four-lane highway connecting Route 322 and I-99 or Interstate 80 using the current route through the township.

One resident asked whether the other potential routes identified in the SCCCT study, including at least one that would have taken traffic across or through Centre Hall Mountain, would again be considered by the state.

“It’s a great question,” Meek said. “It’s what everyone would like an answer to. At this point, we don’t have an answer from PennDOT about when it will start or what it will look like.”

Meek said she would pass the question, along with other comments brought up at the meeting, to PennDOT officials.

The supervisors on Monday indicated that they would ask the county Metropolitan Planning Organization to insist the alternative options are included in any study for the project.

While there is no official timeline for the possible project, Meek offered some estimates Monday. She said preliminary engineering could begin late this year. The entire project, from engineering to construction, could take 15 years to complete.

The first phase of the Potters Mills Gap project, meanwhile, is expected to start late this year.

Meek said that project is not dependent on a new Route 322, and can stand on its own even if no other work occurs.

Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter @Carrollreporter.

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