The accident on U.S. Route 322 on Sept. 30 is the type of accident that has tragedy written all over it: a rear-end collision that pushes one or more vehicles into the path of an oncoming tractor trailer. Somehow, no one was killed in this accident. The pictures make that hard to believe (CDT, Oct. 1).
Generations of local officials have sought funds to replace this missing link on U.S. 322 with a safe highway. An Alternatives Analysis for U.S. Route 322/state Route 144/state Route 45 was completed 10 years ago. It was the sixth study of options completed since I-80 was built in the late 1960s.
Within the past year, funding has been secured to construct four miles of four-lane, limited-access highway from the top of Seven Mountains to just west of Potters Mills. The new overpass at the top of Seven Mountains is the first phase of that project.
But these four miles of new roadway won’t be completed until 2019 — and the cost will be about $140 million — an amount that far exceeds Centre County’s normal allocation of state and federal funds. The adoption of Act 89 by the state provided funding for the project.
But that still leaves eight miles of two-lane road between Potters Mills and Boalsburg, including the site of this accident at the intersection of Route 322 and Cider Press Road (between Potters Mills and Tusseyville). The study needs to be updated as a first step in finding funding for a new highway to replace this last remaining section of two-lane Route 322 between Harrisburg and Port Matilda. Sad to say, but this near-fatal accident is likely to give added impetus to securing the funds needed to complete the update.
The Centre County Metropolitan Planning Organization, the body responsible for setting priorities for transportation projects in the county, just adopted a long-range transportation plan covering the next 30 years. The MPO is required to exclude projects it cannot pay for in that plan (based on the expected allocation of state and federal dollars). The MPO recognized the importance of the Route 322 missing link, but because no funds have been committed to building the remaining portion of new highway, the project had to be labeled outside fiscal constraint. The previous cost estimate to construct these eight miles of new roadway (route unspecified) was over $600 million.
While we need to lobby the state Department of Transportation and our state legislative delegation (Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, Reps. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, Mike Hanna, D-Lock Haven, Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, and Rich Irvin, R-Spruce Creek), we really need to look to Congress for action.
For 10 years, Congress has been unable to agree on how to pay for transportation improvements without running up the national deficit and debt. Congress authorizes spending of about $50 billion a year on roads, bridges and transit, but the primary mechanism to pay for those projects, the federal gas tax, brings in $34 billion. The gas tax hasn’t been adjusted since 1993 — not even for inflation. It remains at 18.4 cents per gallon (diesel 24.4 cents). As a result, projects like the Route 322 missing link don’t get built — maybe not for another 30 years.
So, if you are calling or emailing our legislators, make sure you also reach out to Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township. They hold keys to funding the construction of this missing link (and two others in Centre County — the I-99/I-80 interchanges near Bellefonte, and the piece of Route 322 between Port Matilda and I-80 northwest of Philipsburg, designated “Corridor O1” of the Appalachian Thruway).
Each of our three missing links is a two-lane road that carries a deadly mix of interstate truck traffic, regional commuters and local drivers turning into side roads, driveways and parking lots. These missing links are not back roads, they are the backbone of Centre County’s highway network, part of the system that is included in the National Highway Performance Program, and recognized as commercial corridors.
The timing is right to talk to federal legislators about funding — new legislation is being developed now. Where the money will come from to pay for future transportation projects has yet to be resolved by Congress.
We were lucky on Sept. 30. There were no funerals to attend. But how often can the community expect to be this lucky?