Officials support $185M in Centre road projects

I-99, I-80 interchange could get funds, improving safety

BELLEFONTE — Centre County is hoping to make the I-99 and I-80 interchanges safer.

During the Tuesday meeting of the Centre County Board of Commissioners, county transportation planner Mike Bloom asked for a letter of support to apply for grant funding for projects that will connect the two interstates, which the commissioners unanimously approved. The projects are estimated to cost $185,450,000.

Sixty percent of the total project cost could be funded through a federal grant from Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA), Bloom said. PennDOT will be submitting the grant application by Nov. 2, with a request of $45 million. Funding for the remainder of the project cost will come from PennDOT and the Centre County Metropolitan Planning Organization.

According to Bloom, the design of I-80 Exit 161 in Bellefonte is functionally obsolete. With a mixture of high speed interstate and lower speed local traffic, there has been a high rate of crashes and severe incidents, some with fatalities, on the interchange. During special events such as football game and Penn State student move-in weekends, there are a lot of traffic backups on I-80 and I-99.

“One of the things that probably doesn’t get as much play or as much coverage is this is a missing link on the National Highway Freight Network and the National Highway System,” Bloom said. “Connecting those two interstates is a key point, from our perspective, from an economic development standpoint. It allows traffic to move through this and get to the areas that it needs to be, with minimal delay, which is key in the Freight Network.”

Once connected, Bloom said that traffic moving between the two interstates will not need to slow down and will continue on at an interstate speed, without the current delays.

Another piece of the project would help drivers who would want to make a movement from I-80 onto Route 26/Jacksonville Road, as there would be a local access interchange a couple of miles down the corridor.

The third part of the project is making Route 26 better between the existing interchange locations. Bloom said that he had lengthy discussions with Marion Township about making the section of the state route better, and the county planning department has some ideas of what the community would want to see if the projects advance.

Design for the project is 75 percent complete and is getting close to shovel-ready, according to Bloom.

If the interchange project does not move forward, investments will be needed to bring the existing interchange system up to acceptable standards. Bloom said these investments would total an estimated $50,000, and include replacement of I-80 bridges that run over Route 26, reconstruction of 1-80’s mainline pavement that runs through the interchange area, extension of I-80 ramps, safety improvements that are currently under study, and pavement or minor widening of Route 26.

If the project is not delivered, the county may also have to pay back all or part of previous federal funds it has used on the interchanges, Bloom said. This could potentially cost up to $30 million.