Centre County transportation projects on deck with influx of state funding

Community members in 2013 look at the proposed highway changes for the U.S. Route 322 Potters Mills Gap transportation project.
Community members in 2013 look at the proposed highway changes for the U.S. Route 322 Potters Mills Gap transportation project. CDT file photo

State officials painted a clearer picture Thursday of how an influx of money from the new transportation funding bill will trickle down in 2014 to local communities.

It will pump in an additional $60.8 million for 26 new projects this year in PennDOT’s North Central region, which includes Centre County, District Executive Kevin Kline said Thursday.

For Centre County, the biggest ticket items are the resurfacing of U.S. Route 322 between the College Avenue and Oak Hall exits ($5.6 million) and the first phase of the Potters Mills Gap project ($3.3 million).

An additional $3.2 million will allow state crews to tackle road resurfacing projects and bridge replacements in the county that they otherwise wouldn’t have had money to address.

More money is also available to fix potholes after a particularly nasty winter for roads, and officials say they are working to determine where those funds will be best used.

“What you will see in spring is not just a patch, a temporary fix,” said Thomas Prestash, district executive for PennDOT’s South Central region. “We are going to be able to start projects and get permanent repairs.”

Kline and Prestash were at the Centre Area Transportation Authority building Thursday to outline where transportation bill funding will be spent in 2014.

Similar meetings were held across the state Thursday, coinciding with Gov. Tom Corbett announcing an additional $600 million will be spent across the state in 2014 than would have been available without the bill.

Generated by a tax increase imposed on the sale of fuel to the state’s gas station owners, and expected to be passed on to consumers at the pump, the bill will be phased in over five years, and eventually is expected to generate $2.3 billion annually.

The Potters Mills Gap project, which in its multiple phases as been pegged at $100 million, is expected to receive funding from the annual pot. The project aims to improve safety and reduce congestion on a 3.75-mile stretch of Route 322 from its intersection with state Route 144 to the top of Seven Mountains.

PennDOT officials said the organization hopes to have environmental clearances to start the work by July and then put the first phase of the project, a bridge near Sand Crest Road, out for bid by late this year.

When asked Thursday whether any environmental issues have been found, such as the presence of Indiana bats, whose habitat is in mountainsides in Pennsylvania, Kline said PennDOT is working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials.

“Right now it’s not delayed (the project timeline),” Kline said. “Our staff continues to work very closely with Fish and Wildlife as we finish through our environmental document. We’ll get a little more specific with some mitigation plans for that, and hopefully things will work out between the agencies.”

Officials said the Potters Mills Gap project can stand alone, but there have been preliminary discussions of improvements to the Rotue 322 corridor that runs through Boalsburg. The road now is largely a two-lane highway.

Further down the road, the state could consider 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.

Harris Township officials have previously expressed desire to be included in the planning process and to have the state look at other options beyond widening the existing roadway.

Officials said Thursday there is no funding officially set aside for that project now, and when funds are available, plans will be sent back to the drawing board.

“We’ll start by stepping back and looking where we were and then see how we can continue through the future,” Kline said. “Right now, we are going to look at all the options. We’ll take a holistic look to the entire area.”