Pa. plans to widen interstate

May 17, 2001

Pa. plans to widen interstate

By STACEY DANZUSO / Staff Writer, Chambersburg

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has committed to widening Interstate 81 to six lanes from the Maryland border to north of Harrisburg, Pa., State Sen. Terry Punt announced Wednesday.


Punt, R-Waynesboro, said the much-needed project will tie into plans in Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia to expand the four-lane stretches in those states.

"We're all working in sync," he said.

The project will encompass 77 miles of highway from the Maryland-Pennsylvania border to Pa. 581, just south of Harrisburg, where it already is six lanes, and from the Interstate 83 interchange in Dauphin County to the Interstate 78 interchange in Lebanon County.

The project will conservatively cost between $200 million and $400 million and will take 10 to 15 years to complete, Punt, vice chairman of the state Senate Transportation Committee, said.


His announcement drew cheers from Franklin County business leaders and elected officials at a press conference Wednesday in Chambersburg.

Punt said a four-state task force decided several years ago to lobby each state's transportation department to expand the congested I-81.

He said he used two key arguments to win PennDOT's approval: Traffic volume and safety.

With from 40,000 to 80,000 vehicles on I-81 in Pennsylvania daily, Punt said the interstate is the second most traveled north-south highway in the East. Only Interstate 95 is busier.

"We have seen unparalleled growth following the I-81 corridor," Punt said. "The pattern will continue as we advance into the next decade."

Safety was a concern, Punt said, because with widening studies or projects approved in Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia, traffic would bottleneck entering Pennsylvania if it remained at four lanes.

The project will move forward quickly, with the Pennsylvania Transportation Commission scheduled to approve the project at its May 24 meeting. In the next month, PennDOT will advertise for consultants to conduct a feasibility and preliminary engineering study, the first phase of the expansion initiative.

The study will look at current and projected traffic volume, existing interchanges and acceleration and deceleration lanes, Punt said.

The $1.5 million study will take from 18 months to 2 years to complete.

Franklin County Commissioner G. Warren Elliott praised the project.

"Regional planning is critical for our future. We will be able to assure workers they can travel from one end of the region to the other safely," he said.

It will be more than a decade before motorists will find a six-lane stretch in Pennsylvania.

Following the study, planners will need at least two years for environmental reviews, land acquisition and final design.

"In the best case scenario, we're looking at four of five years before we start construction," Punt said.

Construction would take another five or 10 years.

"This is a process. Time frames will be impacted by our ability to work together," said PennDOT Deputy Secretary Larry King.

Pennsylvania's timeline is in step with neighboring states' plans.

In Maryland, where the traffic volume on I-81 currently varies from 35,000 to 62,000 vehicles a day, has committed nearly $1.6 million for planning and preliminary engineering, said Douglas Simmons, director of planning and preliminary engineering for Maryland's State Highway Administration.

The first phase will study the projected traffic volumes through 2025, and determine what measures are needed to address the traffic crunch, Simmons said.

The 3-year-study is scheduled to begin this summer.

In West Virginia, some construction has already started around Martinsburg.

Virginia has approved a 20-year plan for widening the roadway in the Shenandoah Valley.

Punt previously had secured $31 million for the U.S. 30 widening and improvements, $25 million for the reconstruction of I-81 from Exit 8 to the Cumberland County line and $9.3 million for the Pa. 16 corridor.

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