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Where major infrastructure projects stand in Centre County

Plus: lawmakers are weighing billions in new tax credits for Pa. families.

This is Talk of the Town, a free weekly newsletter delivering top news from State College and the surrounding region.

June 22, 2023
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Inside this edition: Where major Centre County road construction projects stand, lawmakers consider billions of dollars in tax credits for Pennsylvania families, and a celebration of pollination 🌼
Three significant infrastructure projects are either underway or in planning for Centre County. 

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation representatives provided an update on Atherton Street reconstruction, the Bellefonte Interchange projects, and the State College Area Connector. Here’s what you need to know:

Atherton Street

Work continues this summer on PennDOT’s yearslong Atherton Street reconstruction. 

PennDOT is currently working on the section of State College’s main thoroughfare between Curtin Road and Westerly Parkway, the third in a series of Atherton Street improvement projects since 2015.

Crews are replacing Atherton’s drainage system because a lot of the metal pipe that runs parallel to the roadway has severely deteriorated, which has resulted in multiple sinkholes, said Marc Maney, a PennDOT construction manager.

At the same time, PennDOT is partnering with State College borough to upsize the water and sewer lines to keep up with the municipality’s growing population. Maney noted that some of that infrastructure hasn’t been upgraded in decades.

According to PennDOT’s website, additional construction will include “concrete curbing, sidewalks and detectable warning surfaces, pavement marking, traffic signals and supports, and other miscellaneous” items.

This section of Atherton Street construction has an estimated price tag of $30.7 million and is expected to be completed in November 2024.

Another significant project on Atherton Street — picking up at Westerly Parkway and running south — is in the preliminary design phase, Maney said.

Bellefonte Interchange Projects

The I-99/I-80 interchange outside of Bellefonte has long posed safety concerns. Problems include bumper-to-bumper traffic on Penn State home football weekends, and interstate and local traffic needing to merge at stop-controlled intersections. 

A three-phase project that is currently underway is aimed at improving travelers’ safety and making the transportation of goods and services through the region more convenient, according to PennDOT’s website

The phases include building a separate local access interchange, a high-speed interchange connecting I-99 and I-80, and upgrading Jacksonville Road. 

The first phase, the local access interchange, took about three years to complete. Total costs are still being finalized but are estimated to be around $51 million, said Brent Lykens, a PennDOT construction engineer.

The project’s second phase involves improvements to Jacksonville Road such as widening the roadway and shoulder, and is slated for construction next year. It will cost between $6 million and $8 million. Eric Murnyack, a PennDOT portfolio manager, said he expects the bulk of that work to be complete in 2024.

The final and most involved phase of the project is the construction of a high-speed interchange between I-99 and I-80. Construction of the estimated $200- to $220-million high-speed connection is expected to begin in 2024 and take five to six years.

The Federal Highway Administration asked that two lanes of traffic be maintained on I-80 as much as possible during construction, Murnyack noted.

State College Area Connector

While still years out from construction, the State College Area Connector project has significant potential impacts — both positive and negative — for Centre County and its residents.

PennDOT, alongside the FHWA, conducted a planning and environmental linkages study to “develop and evaluate a range of alternatives to improve mobility and meet the needs of the interstate, regional, and local traffic passing through and moving within the study area by reducing congestion, improving safety, and addressing system continuity.”

According to the study, there were almost 400 reportable crashes within the study area between January 2014 and December 2018 — including five fatal crashes and 168 crashes that resulted in injuries.

The study area included about 70 square miles in southern Centre County and listed the key roadways in the area as I-99, U.S. 322, and state Routes 26, 144, 45, 192, and 64.

The study identified three potential “build alternatives” that will be advanced for additional environment and engineering study:
  • U.S. 322-1OEX (8.3 miles) would start at the U.S. 322 interchange with state Route 45 near Boalsburg and follow the existing route of U.S. 322 until the intersection of Bear Meadows Road, where it would shift north until it reaches the intersection of existing U.S. 322 and Neff Road. The proposed route would shift again to follow existing U.S. 322 until it reaches the interchange at Potters Mills Gap. 
  • U.S. 322-1S (8.3 miles) would follow the same potential route as U.S. 322-1OEX until it reaches Neff Road, where it would adjust farther south of the existing U.S. 322 roadway. It would also end at the interchange at Potters Mills Gap.
  • U.S. 322-5 (8.4 miles) would follow the existing U.S. 322 until Bear Meadows Road, where it would shift south of the existing highway until it reaches the interchange at Potters Mills Gap.
The projected costs of these new routes vary between $432 million and $517 million, according to PennDOT. The final route could be a combination of any of the three potential options or a slight variation of one. 

A “no-build alternative,” which was studied, does not meet the transportation needs of the region in terms of safety and anticipated growth, said Kevin James, of Michael Baker International, who serves as the consultant project manager.

But over the years, Centre County residents have expressed concerns about what the State College Area Connector project could mean for surrounding farmland and community resources. They also worry about increased pollution and noise.

James anticipates that PennDOT will host two public meetings during the upcoming National Environmental Policy Act process — one to explain refinements to the potential routes and another to share the recommended option. There will also be a public hearing on the chosen route.

Construction could begin as soon as 2027.

Sarah Rafacz, State College editor
"My thing is, how do you defend keeping so much of the taxpayer dollars in Harrisburg and not making the investments that we know we need to make?"

—State Rep. Jordan Harris (D., Philadelphia) on a Democratic proposal to create a new tax credit for working families and expand an existing one. 
» Inexperience and staff turnover led to Luzerne County’s 2022 election debacle, investigation finds

» Tax credits for Pa. families worth billions of dollars are on the table this budget season

» HOW HARRISBURG WORKS: Join us TONIGHT at 6 p.m. ET on Zoom, for a free panel on Pennsylvania’s 2023 budget, what issues are on the table, and how you can get involved. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org
The Allegheny Front Trail in Moshannon State Forest, captured by @hiking_mitch.

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Want us to list your event? Send it to us.

» June 22: WingFest kicks off at Tussey Mountain.

» June 24: Explore flower power at the Pollination Celebration at The Arboretum at Penn State 

» June 24: Sock & Buskin presents The Vagina Monologues at the Blue Brick Theatre in downtown State College.

» June 24-25: Art in the Wilds, held in Evergreen Park in Kane, features the work of a variety of artists.

» June 28-July 2: Remington Ryde Bluegrass Festival returns to the Grange Fairgrounds in Centre Hall.
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