PA: Centre County Prioritizing Road, Transit Projects

June 23--Every two years, the Centre County Metropolitan Planning Organization has to look at upcoming transportation projects and prioritize them on something called the Transportation Improvement Program, a state requirement that helps rank expenditures of federal, state and local transportation dollars.

A spot on the TIP means the MPO is saying a project will be done within the next four years. Not making it on the list means a project has to wait, and the reason is probably money.

"What we have on TIP right now are the highest priority projects we have the funding for," said Centre Region transportation planner Tom Zilla.

Typically, the MPO has about $60 million in state and federal money to spread around the county. That might sound like a lot of money, but with projects that cost millions for planning and design alone, it goes quickly. Representatives of the group come from every corner, balancing the needs of the largest population centers in the Centre Region against the hundreds of miles of road that snake through smaller communities and more rural areas.

They do not always agree about what the priorities should be.

The new TIP is in its public comment period. One of the largest projects on the plan is a $103.1 million plan for Potters Mills Gap that exists over and above the normal $60 million allotment. It will reconstruct 3.75 miles of Route 322, creating a four-lane highway that would more easily and safely handle high volumes of traffic.

Zilla said the three-stage project would begin later this year, with stage two happening a year later and stage three, the only portion that isn't fully funded, in 2016, when funding should be available on the next TIP.

For Bellefonte, that's not great news. If a project that expensive is going to take up space on two consecutive TIPs, they would like it to be the Bellefonte interchanges on Interstate 99.

"Funding became available for the Potters Mills Gap project somehow," said borough Manager Ralph Stewart. "We are asking that, as a matter of priority, this should be finished."

Zilla knows how the Bellefonte-area communities feel but said he is "constrained by law" when it comes to the TIP. If a project isn't funded, it can't be included. The $150 million-estimated interchanges have to wait.

Another big-ticket item that got special additional funding is the I-99/Waddle Road interchange project in Patton Township for $13.75 million.

"We need to do something to increase capacity," said Patton Township engineer and MPO representative Brent Brubaker. "That's a pretty big destination. It will help increase development."

The projects that fall inside the $60 million allotment are significant, too.

There is a three-stage draining and repaving project on Atherton Street in the State College area. The first piece, paving from Colonnade Boulevard to Aaron Drive will go to construction later this year, with a cost of $3 million. The next piece, with a $17 million price tag, including both design and construction, will bring the project down as far as Park Avenue. The last piece will go as far as Westerly Parkway. That section is not completely funded on this TIP.

TIP projects can also include transit. The Centre Area Transportation Authority is on the list for a $32.5 million expansion to its operations and maintenance facilities. A new building will be constructed for administration and maintenance. The existing bus storage facility will be expanded.

Bridges are another big chunk of the list. The bridge that crosses Cold Stream where Philipsburg and Rush Township meet is on the list. So are state-owned bridges in Bald Eagle Valley and Penns Valley and a Worth Township-owned bridge at Ardery Hollow Road.

A meeting for public comment on the TIP is being held Wednesday at the College Township Municipal Building from 5 to 7 p.m.

"We usually do not get very much response. The TIP is a financial doc. Residents are more interested in finding out the details of the project and often times we don't have that for two years. Other than knowing there is a project coming, we can't provide all of that information," said Zilla. "We get their input on what their concerns might be, then pass comments on to PennDOT or other sponsors."

Comments can also be submitted at the MPO's website, www.crcog.net/CCMPO.

Copyright 2014 - Centre Daily Times (State College, Pa.)

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