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PennDOT announces bid for first phase of Bellefonte Interchange Project

BELLEFONTE — With construction projects in the state finally getting the green light, the long-awaited project that will ultimately result in a high-speed interchange between Interstates 80 and 99 near Bellefonte took another step forward this week.

On Thursday, PennDOT announced it has completed bidding for the first phase of the project, a new local interchange. HRI, Inc. of State College was the apparent low-bidder, coming in at just under $52 million ($51,997,302.59).

PennDOT will officially award the bid and give notice to begin construction later this spring.

The first phase of what will be an overall three-phase project will crate a new local access ramp two miles to the east of the current intersection along Jacksonville Road. For local drivers not on I-99, this will be the new access point to I-80. Because of the rural designation of the area, the new local interchange must be built two miles from the high-speed interchange. PennDOT purchased farm land at the site of the local interchange there years ago.

The overall project is estimated to be $200 million. In 2018, PennDOT was awarded a $35.1 million Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation for the work. It was the only INFRA grant the state applied for and was awarded after a campaign by local, state and federal officials, county business leaders and other organizations like Penn State University.

Two I-80 bridges that span the junction will soon need major repairs or replacement, and if that work was done without constructing the new interchange, it would have been a generation or more before a high-speed interchange could be developed. Business, tourism, government and transportation leaders viewed the project as a critical one as Centre County continues to grow and the current alignment of the two highways leads to unsafe traffic backups of vehicles waiting to get on and off I-80.

PennDOT committed more than $150 million to the project and the Centre County Metropolitan Planning Organization committed another $8 million.

Work on the project will be in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and state Department of Health guidance as well as a project-specific COVID-19 safety plan, which will include protocols for social distancing, use of face coverings, personal and job site cleaning protocols, management of entries to the job site and relevant training.

The local interchange is projected to be completed in late 2021. It will be followed by improvements to Jacksonville Road and the high-speed interchange construction, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2025.

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