Here are 4 ‘high-crash’ intersections in Centre County and what can be done to fix them

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

Driving into town on a Penn State football weekend or making the commute home can be a trying experience, at best, at some intersections in Centre County. It’s a problem that hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Local planners and state Department of Transportation officials work together to identify priority projects. There’s a “strict focus on safety,” said Mike Bloom, senior transportation planner for Centre County.

“Some of these locations were known just by reputation,” he said.

Below are four “high-crash locations” and what improvements are in the works.

I-80/I-99 Interchange

Traffic backed up on I-99 near the I-99/I-80 interchange due to a vehicle crash in June 2009. Centre Daily Times, file

Problem: Interstate and local traffic mix at intersections that have stop signs. Often there are backups as traffic exits I-80, blocking the lane of travel on the interstate, especially when there’s a lot of traffic (on football weekends, for example). It’s a project that’s been stalled for years due to lack of funding.

Between 2012 and 2016, there were 25 crashes westbound and 19 eastbound, according to PennDOT.

Fix: The ideal solution is construction of a new high-speed interchange between interstates 99 and 80, a separate local access interchange and Jacksonville Road betterment. It comes at a hefty price tag, though, which is why PennDOT has applied for federal aid in the form of an Infrastructure for Rebuilding America Grant.

Tom Zilla, principal transportation planner for the Centre Regional Planning Agency, anticipates that word about whether the project got the grant might come in early summer.

If PennDOT doesn’t get the grant, there will need to be some consideration of whether to try to finance the project anyway, Zilla said, because deferred maintenance investments and safety improvements that would need to be made would only be a “band-aid.”

And if the grant application is successful, he said, there also might need to be some safety work done even as the new interchanges are being constructed.

Estimated cost: It depends. The total cost of building a new high-speed interchange and local interchange, plus improving Jacksonville Road, is estimated at $200 million. PennDOT requested $43 million from the INFRA grant program, which would cover the cost of the local interchange. The CCMPO has pledged the $6-7 million it would take to improve Jacksonville Road. PennDOT would fund the remaining cost through discretionary sources to build the high-speed interchange.

But, if the funding doesn’t come through from the federal governments and the decision is made not to try to do the high-speed interchange project anyway, it would cost somewhere in the ballpark of $40-50 million to make necessary safety improvements, Zilla said.

Timeline: If PennDOT receives the grant, the local access interchange will need to be ready to go to construction within 18 months of the award.

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State routes 26 and 45 — Ferguson Township

route 45
PennDOT is planning improvements to the intersection of state routes 26 and 45 near Pine Grove Mills. Phoebe Sheehan Centre Daily Times, file

Problem: It has a unique design, described as an “A,” where it has multiple legs coming into the intersection, Bloom said.

Between 2012 and 2016, according to PennDOT, there were 13 crashes at the location.

But, the crashes generally don’t involve severe injuries or fatalities, Bloom said.

Fix: There are several possible solutions, including a traffic signal and widening of Route 26; a traffic signal, widening and realigning Route 45 to meeting Route 26 at a 90-degree angle; and a roundabout.

It seems that local officials are leaning toward the realignment route, Zilla said.

The project would also improve the structurally deficient bridge on Route 26 that’s right next to the intersection, Bloom said.

Estimated cost: It’s likely to be in the neighborhood of $5 million, Zilla said, and it’s just shy of being fully funded.

Timeline: The project is in preliminary design, according to PennDOT, and is scheduled to be bid in late August 2021, with work in 2022.

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State routes 26 and 150 — Howard Township

howard township
A motorcycle-SUV crash in June at the intersection of state routes 26 and 150 in Howard Township sent both drivers to the hospital. Sarah Rafacz Centre Daily Times, file

Problem: It’s at the end of the causeway, and has one of the lower crash rates, Bloom said, but the severity index is really high, including severe injuries and fatalities. Speed is ultimately the issue at this one.

The intersection is like an “optical illusion,” he said. It’s hard to judge the speed of other drivers, even though there’s good sight distance.

“And then also there’s some driver behaviors at that intersection that get to be a little dangerous, a little reckless,” Bloom said.

Fix: There’s no clearly defined solution, he said. There’s a study that’ll pick up in earnest at the end of the month — to do a traffic count to get an idea of what pure engineering solutions might help address the safety issues.

Estimated cost: Without a solid solution, yet, it’s hard to say how much it might end up costing.

Timeline: That study should produce some answers by fall, Bloom said, so there should be a better picture then.

State routes 64 and 550 — Walker Township

Intersections 2
The intersection of state routes 64 and 550 in Zion is the location of many crashes. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

Problem: There’s a lot going on at this intersection. It’s a Y, near businesses with open access, and drivers are traveling at high speeds with limited sight distance, Bloom said. There’s also a lot of different opportunities for movements.

It has a high crash rate, and it has a history of fatalities and severe injuries, he said.

According to PennDOT, between 2012 and 2016, there were nine crashes, with two fatal crashes.

Fix: There are two evaluated options, Zilla said, and a final determination hasn’t been made yet. Under consideration is a roundabout option and a traffic signal option.

Estimated cost: The project is likely to cost $3.9 million, and it’s fully funded, Zilla said.

Timeline: According to PennDOT, the project is in preliminary design and expected to be bid in October 2019.

Sarah Rafacz: 814-231-4619, @SarahRafacz