Funding is set for I-99/I-80 interchange project. So when will construction start?

An aerial view of the I-99/I-80 interchange near Bellefonte. PennDOT has received a $35 million grant for the interchange project.
An aerial view of the I-99/I-80 interchange near Bellefonte. PennDOT has received a $35 million grant for the interchange project. Photo provided

Improvements to the I-99/I-80 interchange have been in the works for a decade, and it’ll only be a couple more years until construction finally gets underway.

That’s thanks to a $35 million federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant.

The estimated $185 million interchange project includes construction of a new high-speed interchange between interstates 99 and 80, a separate local access interchange and Jacksonville Road betterment.

The INFRA grant will fund the local access interchange, while the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation will foot the rest of the bill.

“This is a big day, not just for Centre County and the region, but for Pennsylvania. I don’t get to come to events celebrating $35 million grants that come from the federal government often, and the community support for this project is really what helped move it forward,” PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards said at an event Tuesday.

Construction on the local access interchange is expected to start in spring 2020 and take about two years, according to Karen Michael, district executive for PennDOT District 2. After that section is complete, PennDOT will bid the high-speed interchange and Jacksonville Road betterment. That phase of construction is expected to last about two years also.

The intersection has long been a problem, with interstate and local traffic mixing at intersections that have stop signs. Often there are backups as traffic exits I-80, block the lane of travel on the interstate, especially when there’s a lot of traffic (such as football weekends).

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

Beyond the safety element of the improvements, the interchange project is also expected to affect economic development in Centre County.

“The improvement of these highway systems, again, causes the productivity to go up in companies. They can more efficiently move their product and themselves back and forth. Otherwise, sometimes, they’re held up in traffic, the product is, it misses timelines and assembly needs, in the case of manufacturing,” said Vern Squier, CEO and president of Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County. “So we just have so many opportunities to increase our efficiency in a business context — that in itself will provide more stability to a business hence more stability to the jobs that are inside that same business but also then that business can take on more production in a more confident way.”

Additionally, tens of millions of dollars have been invested up and down along I-99 and I-80 in the county, in either business parks or nearby businesses, he said.