PennDOT: More funding needed for Route 322 upgrade

State transportation officials said Wednesday the proposed upgrade project to U.S. Route 322 in Potters Mills won’t be possible without additional funding from a state transportation bill.

Hundreds of Penns Valley residents heard an update on the project, which calls for improvements to increase safety and reduce congestion on a 3.75-mile stretch of Route 322 from near its intersection with state Route 144 to the Centre County/Mifflin County line.

The public meeting at the Penns Valley Area Elementary School was meant to give residents a chance to voice questions and concerns about the project. It also gave state Department of Transportation officials a chance to outline the plan in greater detail.

PennDOT district executive Kevin Kline said the project has a price tag of more than $100 million and can’t get past the final design stages without additional state funding from a proposed transportation bill.

Project engineer Brian St. John said officials are pursuing designs that call for full interchanges to be built at both ends of the project — just west of the intersection of routes 322 and 144 and near Sand Mountain Road.

A four-lane highway would be constructed between those points and would be designed to stay as close to the existing route as possible to minimize environmental impacts, St. John said.

A two-lane connector road would be added along the stretch to serve local traffic.

St. John said construction of full interchanges at both ends of the four-lane highway would allow the connector road to have a smaller footprint and would minimize the environmental impact to the surrounding state forest land.

The initial designs for the project included only a partial interchange near the intersection of routes 322 and 144. The full interchange now being proposed would have a greater impact on agricultural land there, but would be offset by minimized impacts throughout the rest of the project, St. John said.

PennDOT officials also said two full interchanges would reduce the number of homes that would have to be acquired to complete the project. Officials pegged that number at two on Wednesday but said it could increase as the project progresses.

Peg Confer, of Potters Mills, wondered if her home would be among those.

“I‘m four houses down from the intersection,” she said during a question-and-answer period Wednesday. “Are we losing our houses, or don’t you know that yet?”

Other residents who live near the intersection expressed concerns that not enough has been done in preliminary planning to smooth the connection for traffic exiting Route 322 for Route 144.

“We’re really at a preliminary stage,” Kline said. “We’ll be taking a look again. We know we’ve got to get traffic out smoothly.”

Mary Carol Frier, of Centre Hall, asked if the project would tie into other proposed work along Route 322 toward Boalsburg.

“Right now this project stands by itself,” Kline said. “It doesn’t have an impact how we move forward. Right now this project can be self-sufficient.”

St. John said he believes the project could be completed within two to three years once work begins, which could be as soon as fall 2014.

PennDOT officials said they remain hopeful that funding will come through for the project.

State Sen. Jake Corman has previously said that transportation-wise, the Potters Mills improvement plan is his top priority.

“Traffic is difficult seven Saturdays a year. And traffic is always challenging on the (Potters Mills) turn,” Corman, R-Benner Township, said. “But safety is the main focus.”