New coalition to push for Centre County transportation projects

If you think there should be a better way for the interstates to meet up around Bellefonte, you aren’t alone.

A new coalition of local leaders are working to support projects like that and improvements to the two-lane portion of U.S. Route 322 between State College and Potters Mills.

“Drive Forward” is a “sustained, broad-based grassroots campaign designed to garner community support,” according to the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County.

The two road projects have been on the table for a long time, but funding hasn’t come together.

“Completion of these two projects will greatly improve and enhance Centre County’s transportation system to the benefit of our county and the surrounding region,” said Jeff Luck, Patton Township supervisor and chairman of the Centre County Metropolitan Planning Organization. “We believe there is a brief window of opportunity to attempt to secure funding for the new interchange, while remaining committed to advancing additional improvements to Route 322.”

CCMPO planner Tom Zilla said, “Advocacy is important to convincing key decision makers at the state and federal level to allocate funds for a large-scale, high-cost project of this type.”

The high-speed interchange for interstates 80 and 99 at Bellefonte is expected to cost about $184 million. The prospective Potters Mills project costs could top $500 million. Those are well over the $55 million generally allotted for the four-year Transportation Improvement Project. That TIP is updated every two years. The additions are called spike projects. Previous spike projects have included the $142 million Potters Mills project already underway and the $15 million Waddle Road project.

“Because the demand for spike funding across the state is much greater than the amount of discretionary funds available, advocacy efforts are important to convince those decision-makers to allocate funds to a certain project. The message becomes more effective when you have a broad and visible advocacy effort,” Zilla said.

CBICC President and CEO Vern Squier said the campaign is “essential because both projects have significant implications for the motoring public — residents, commuters, students and visitors — as well as for commerce, tourism, and new business investment into the region.”

The campaign will also include a website set to launch soon with information on the projects, the funding and updates. It will also permit the public to engage in the process and advocacy.

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce