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Md., Pa. dragging on I-81 studies

August 14, 1998|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Pennsylvania and Maryland lag behind West Virginia and Virginia in planning improvements to the Interstate 81 corridor, according to the head of a task force working to upgrade the highway.

Virginia will complete a $17 million study on its 325 miles of the interstate by October, said James D. Latimer, chairman of the Quad-State I-81 Improvement Task Force.

Latimer told state legislators at the annual conference of the Quad-State Legislative Council Thursday that West Virginia has earmarked $1.5 million to study its 26 miles of I-81 and has approved a $22 million bond issue for improvements, including widening it to six lanes in Martinsburg.

Latimer said Maryland would need to spend about $680,000 to study its 13 miles of the interstate and estimated Pennsylvania would have to spend $2.7 million for a study of a 52-mile section from the Maryland border to Carlisle.

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The recently approved $215 billion federal highway bill could provide funding for a complete study of the corridor, said Roger Nober, general counsel to the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Nober said $700 million is available over the next six years through the National Corridor Planning and Development Program. While highway funds are generally allocated to individual states, he said traffic problems transcend state lines.

"This is just the kind of problem this program was developed for," Nober said.

"Urge your states to go to the Department of Transportation and make this a priority," he said.

Nober said the highway bill also includes greater flexibility. For example, a state can take up to 50 percent of funding from one category and move it to another to deal with priority road projects.

The bill also streamlines the process for conducting environmental and other impact studies by calling for them to be conducted concurrently. He alluded to one project, a proposed interchange in Chambersburg, that has been held up for 12 years, in part because of the various impact studies.

"I-81 is the backbone of the Quad-State region. We are a north-south economy," Latimer said. In Pennsylvania and West Virginia, traffic increased 25 percent between 1990 and 1995 and increasing the interstate's capacity is crucial to continued economic development, he said.

Latimer estimated improvement studies would take more than two years to complete. Getting construction funding and the actual road work could take a decade or more.

Latimer's report said the four states will receive more than $16 billion for roadway projects over the next six years, but much of that money is already earmarked for specific projects.

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