Wolf announces major transportation project in Centre County
Centre County residents have an opportunity to make their voices heard concerning a $20 million allocation to the State College Area Connector project, which aims to improve U.S. Route 322 from the Seven Mountains to State College.
The Centre County Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is charged with both long-range and short-range transportation planning in Centre County, will hold a public meeting at Mount Nittany Middle School from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday to consider adding $20 million in state funding to the 2019-2022 Centre County Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).
That $20 million would go toward a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation preliminary engineering study for the State College Area Connector project, which would improve a 13-mile stretch of 322 from the Seven Mountains to State College, said Centre Regional Planning Agency Principal Transportation Planner Tom Zilla.
“In order for PennDOT to get to the point of actually being able to construct a project, they have to go through a process to identify, evaluate and select an alternative” and receive environmental clearance, he said.
The preliminary engineering phase would probably last 3-4 years, he said, and work would not start until early 2020 when PennDOT has secured a project consultant.
The entire State College Area Connector project is estimated to cost about $670 million, according to Gov. Tom Wolf.
Zilla said the CCMPO is looking for two types of input from residents in the county who may be affected by the connector project: “Do people support the commitment of the funds?” and “What are questions and comments from citizens and residents out in that area of the county, (or) concerns?”
Originally, the connector project was slated as a successor to the South Central Centre County Transportation Study, which began in 1999. But in 2004, the federal government pulled funding for statewide transportation funding and the project was terminated, according to CCMPO documents.
Due to Act 89 of 2013, which increased state transportation funding, in 2014 PennDOT committed funding for the Potters Mills Gap project, a 3.75 mile stretch of Route 322 near Potters Mills, originally part of the SCCCTS, to address safety, reduce congestion and improve access, stated the CCMPO documents.
PennDOT began a data “refresh” for the State College Area Connector project at CCMPO’s request, adding $3 million in discretionary funds to the Centre County TIP in 2017, said Zilla. The PennDOT data collection, which wraps this month, looked at traffic, safety, community and environmental features, according to documents.
Though Wolf mentioned the connector project would include the expansion of the two-lane section of Route 322 to a four-lane highway at a February press conference, Zilla said the preliminary engineering phase will determine if that is the correct way to proceed for the project.
“There is a process that has to be followed and we can’t presuppose what that process is going to be,” he said. “Alternatives have to meet what we call documented project needs ... what are the needs and what is the purpose of the project in solving those needs?”
If the preliminary engineering phase finishes in 2022 and the final design period takes another 3-6 years, Zilla said, PennDOT could be looking at a 2027 start date for construction on the connector project.