PennDOT seeks federal help funding I-99/I-80 interchange project

An aerial view of the I-80/I-99 interchange in Bellefonte, where a new high-speed interchange is proposed.
An aerial view of the I-80/I-99 interchange in Bellefonte, where a new high-speed interchange is proposed. Photo provided

It’s been about a decade since the I-99/I-80 interchange project stalled due to lack of funding.

Now, the state Department of Transportation is applying for a federal grant that, if awarded, will help finally bring the project to fruition.

Thursday is the deadline to apply for the Infrastructure For Rebuilding American Grant Program.

The estimated $185 million project would include constructing a new high-speed interchange between Interstates 99 and 80, a separate local access interchange and Jacksonville Road betterment.

The Centre County Metropolitan Planning Organization has committed $6-7 million to the Jacksonville Road work, Jeff Luck, CCMPO chairman and Patton Township supervisor, said at a news conference Monday.

“Our commitment (is) not a large percentage of the overall project, but it is a large fraction of the amount of transportation funding we’re allocated,” he said. “And as a result, it’s not an easy lift for us. It is going to impact other transportation projects. We’re doing it because we think it’s critically important to finish this particular large project.”

Karen Michael, district executive for PennDOT District 2, said PennDOT is requesting $45 million from INFRA, and the remaining funds would come from PennDOT’s interstate transportation improvement program.

The configuration of the existing interchange requires a stop movement and a lot of potential for congestion, which creates potential for incidents, PennDOT Deputy Secretary for Highway Administration George McAuley said.

“It’s very important that we have safe and efficient and effective transportation pathways,” said Vern Squier, president and CEO of the Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County. CBICC has launched a campaign called “Drive Forward” to garner community support to advance large transportation infrastructure projects, like the I-99/I-80 interchange.

McAuley said there’s no timeline for when PennDOT will find out if it receives the grant.

But if PennDOT does receive the grant, there’s a timeline that follows.

The INFRA grant requires a project to be able to go to construction within 18 months of the award, Michael said.

The local interchange was ready to go and got stopped due to funding issues, Michael said. PennDOT will have to go back and look at the permits and some environmental aspects before the project can be put out to bid.

She said that should take about a year to 18 months. After that point, the local interchange would be built, and it would be two years until PennDOT would have the high-speed interchange ready to go.

Because of the investments required, if the grant application isn’t accepted and the high-speed interchange isn’t completed, there are deferred maintenance investments and safety improvements that will need to be made, Luck said.

Those improvements could cost between $40 million and $80 million, Michael said.

It’d be cost-effective to be prepared to finalize the interchange as opposed to having to spend the money to hold together what’s there and then eventually have to redo the interchange, McAuley said.

“This is probably the last time in this generation that this project has an opportunity to move to completion,” Luck said.

Sarah Rafacz: 814-231-4619, @SarahRafacz