Pa. will fund $670 million Seven Mountains to State College transportation project

A $670 million project to improve the connection on U.S. Route 322 between the top of the Seven Mountains and State College will become a reality, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced at a press conference Wednesday.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is committing discretionary funding toward the connection project, some of which is gleaned through Act 89, said Wolf.

“We are making the long awaited route connection project a reality. Thirteen miles on Route 322 that has not been finished,” Wolf said at a press conference in Boalsburg on Wednesday. “We waited for the federal government to follow through on the commitment they actually made, and have decided not to follow through at this point, we’re all disappointed in that ... but we are going to do it, right here in Pennsylvania.”

Construction for the project is slated to begin in 2027 and will take about three or four years, said Wolf. It would involve expanding the 13 miles of two-lane road stretching from the Seven Mountains near Potters Mills to State College to a four-lane highway, he said.

A two-lane section of U.s. Route 322 outside Boalsburg near the Elks Country Club, seen here in 2006, is set become a four-lane highway with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation committing discretionary funding toward a major transportation project. Centre Daily Times, file

The 322 Seven Mountains to State College connection project has been in talks since the mid-1980s, said PennDOT District 2 Executive Karen Michael. But in 2004, the federal government under President George W. Bush pulled funding for the project. In 2017, a coalition of local leaders came together under the campaign “Drive Forward” to push for funding the high-speed Interstate 99 to Interstate 80 interchange near Bellefonte and the Seven Mountains to State College connection.

Since PennDOT was in the middle of a study considering alternatives for the project when funding was pulled in 2004, Michael said, the project will pick up with the completion of the study, which includes refreshing the data on environmental constraints and traffic patterns. Then, PennDOT will begin taking public input and forming the basis for preliminary engineering.

One of the reasons this project is so important, said Wolf, is that it would improve the connections between Penn State and State College with the rest of the Commonwealth and the country.

“If I were a … national planner, I would look at this: State College, a major urban area, I would look at Penn State, one of the great universities in the world, and look at the connections that still have yet to be made, and say, ‘I think we oughta do something about this,’” said Wolf. “We’re stepping up at the state level. We’re gonna make it a reality.”

Wolf continued to rib the federal government for ignoring the importance of the connection.

“Did I mention the federal government is shirking its responsibility?” he asked, to laughs.

Safety is a huge consideration of the project, said State Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, who has been a part of the planning process since the project’s early days.

“This is a dangerous road,” he said. “It’s poor sight lines, there’s no buffer in between ... and we’ve all read in the press over the years of the devastating accidents that we’ve had on that highway. And just think that Penns Valley (Area School District) runs school buses on that highway every day.”

Michael said the project’s top priority would be to address safety. “That’s going to be the basis of the whole thing, is how do we make the connection between the Seven Mountains and State college safe,” she said.

Between the Interstate 99 to Interstate 80 interchange, the Potters Mills Gap/Seven Mountains update and the Seven Mountains to State College connection improvement, PennDOT will have invested over $1 billion in the Centre County region, said Corman.

“This is a major investment and major commitment to quality of life not only here in Centre County, but through the whole (of) central Pennsylvania,” State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, said.

Sarah Paez covers Centre County communities, government and town and gown relations for the Centre Daily Times. She studied English and Spanish at Cornell University and grew up outside of Washington, D.C.