Room for improvement
STATE COLLEGE – Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Engineering District 2 held a public meeting Wednesday to discuss turning a 3.75-mile long section of U.S. 322, in Potter Township, Centre County, into a four-lane highway.
The estimated $105 million Potters Mills Gap Transportation Project would cover an area from the Mifflin-Centre county line on U.S. 322 to approximately 3/5 of a mile west of the U.S. 322 and state Route 144 intersection.
PennDOT Engineering District 2 said the purpose of the project is to improve the 3.75-mile section of U.S. 322 to meet traffic and local needs, while providing a transportation facility that improves safety, reduces congestion and alleviates access concerns.
The project falls within Potters Mills Gap which is formed by Triester and Kohler Mountains. U.S. 322 travels through the gap and is surrounded by Rothrock and Bald Eagle State Forests.
PennDOT stated the two-lane section of U.S. 322 is known for motorist delays due to truck traffic negotiating steep grades and the absence of alternative routes. PennDOT also said the U.S. 322 and state Route 144 intersection has a crash history that exceeds the state average, despite numerous previous safety improvements.
Currently no money is backing this project. PennDOT Engineering District 2 Executive Kevin Kline said as a part of transportation reform issues that Gov. Tom Corbett and the state legislature has been going through, PennDOT was asked to start looking at the U.S. 322 corridor.
“This is probably one of the most sensitive pieces of (U.S.) 322 throughout the state,” Kline said. “We definitely have a lot of issues with congestion and definitely a lot of safety concerns.”
Kline said, PennDOT has put together something it calls a decade of investment, a 10-year investment program, that has been debated in Harrisburg over the past several months. There was no action taken regarding the bill as budget issues rolled through in late June, Kline added.
“As far as money, we do have funding to stay within the environmental and preliminary engineering phases, but we do need funds in the final design, right-of-way acquisition and construction,” Kline said.
Funds would come from a bill that was originally submitted during the month of June but has yet to be passed. The hope is that the bill will be passed soon, Kline said.
PennDOT has teamed up with McCormick Taylor, an engineering firm, to complete the preliminary engineering and environmental documentation.
Members of the public also had a chance to weigh in.
Ruth Confer, of Lock Haven, said she is for the project she went to the meeting to find out exactly where the road is going to go.
“Being with the Penn State football games, you need an easier access into the college and out,” Confer said.
She stated she was very familiar with what the people are going through in Potters Mills with the traffic because she used to live behind a local restaurant just off the U.S. 322/state Route 144 intersection.
“(U.S.) 322 at the intersection of (state Route) 144 is a bottleneck and there have been numerous accidents, people have died.” Confer said. “I feel it’s a safety issue.”
PennDOT said in 2013 the actual annual daily traffic consists of 15,640 vehicles, 2,600 of which are trucks. In 2040, PennDOT estimates the daily traffic to consist of 19,550 vehicles, including 3,250 trucks.
According to a PennDOT report, the time delay at the state Route 144 and U.S. 322 intersection in 2013 is 62 seconds in the morning hours and 133.4 seconds in the afternoon and evening hours. PennDOT estimates the time delay in 2040 to be 381.2 seconds in the morning and 602.6 seconds at night, if the roads and intersection stays the same.
Many of the people who came to the meeting were concerned about land and how PennDOT will handle the issue. Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires federal agencies to take into account the effects of projects on historic and archaeological resources. PennDOT said the goal of Section 106 is to identify resources affected by the project, assess the effects, and seek ways to avoid, minimize or mitigate any adverse effects on the resources.
Some of the places PennDOT mentioned are the Potter-Allison farmhouse and barn, McCoy-Miller farm, Thompson’s/Homan’s store and Penns-Brush Valley Rural Historic District.
PennDOT said in May 2013, about 70 individuals and organizations were notified by letter of opportunity to participate as consulting parties for the project. As of Wednesday, 24 had made the request to do so. PennDOT said all requests are evaluated by the federal agencies and if approved, the individual or organization will be involved in Section 106 process.
The next step for District 2 will be to continue engineering and environmental studies to refine the Potters Mills Gap Transportation Project. PennDOT said details of the project development process will be included in the project’s environmental accessment, anticipated for sometime this fall or winter.
For more information about the project, visit www.dot.state.pa.us/penndot/districts/district2.nsf to view pictures of the Potters Mills Gap Transportation Project.