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PennDOT opens bids for planned Exit 17 of I-81

December 05, 2003|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The nearly 17-year battle over Exit 17 may be reaching an end after the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation opened bids for the Interstate 81 interchange on Thursday.

Hempt Bros. of Camp Hill, Pa., submitted the lowest of the three bids at $15,653,318, transportation department spokesman Greg Penny said. That bid just edged out one of $15,688,121 by New Enterprise Stone and Lime of New Enterprise, Pa., he said.

"We go with the low bid and review the bid package for accuracy," Penny said. If it passes review, Penny said it will be awarded in four to six weeks.

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Construction could begin in late February, with completion in the summer of 2005, according to Penny.

That schedule, however, may depend on pending arguments before the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, according to Tom Linzey, a staff attorney for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. He said oral arguments before the court are scheduled for late January.

The scope of the project includes the new interchange and ramp extensions from Exit 16 to Exit 17, Penny said. The extensions mean the northbound on-ramp from U.S. 30 to I-81 will run continuously to become the off-ramp of Exit 17, with the reverse being the case in the southbound lanes.

The Walker Road bridge will be demolished as part of the project and about four miles of concrete pavement will be repaired from Exit 16 to Exit 20 and overlaid with 4 inches of asphalt, Penny said.

Linzey said the project's cost is closer to $20 million, with about $4 million in state money being spent to extend Norland Avenue in Chambersburg to Walker Road on the west side of the interstate.

The legal, environmental and historical fights over the exit have gone on so long that the number of the exit has changed since former U.S. Rep. Bud Shuster announced federal funding for what then was expected to be a $5 million project in 1987. Back then, it was referred to as Exit 7 because there was no exit between Exits 6 and 8.

Since then, the state changed the way it numbers exits, from listing them consecutively to identifying them by the nearest mile marker on the interstate.

The project also was redesigned in 1998, moving the interchange farther south than originally planned, Linzey said.

"I began working for PennDOT in January 1989," Penny said, recalling a public meeting on the project he attended. "I thought, 'Great, I'll get to see a project from the beginning.'"

"I think a lot of people never figured we'd get this far," Penny said.

Linzey, who previously represented a Greene Township couple in a land condemnation dispute involving the exit, said he does not believe the project can proceed further until all appeals have been exhausted. He represents a group of nine individuals and two organizations, the Greene-Guilford Environmental Association and Citizens for Responsible Growth, that lost its case to stop the exit in U.S. District Court, but later appealed.

The plaintiffs oppose the exit on the grounds that the state transportation department and federal highway authorities acted improperly in siting the interchange before conducting an environmental impact study, Linzey said. The planners erred again when the project was redesigned without a supplemental environmental impact study, he said.

If the state begins construction before the appeal is resolved "injunctive relief is something we'd look at," Linzey said.

"We answered the challenges in court and we prevailed," Penny said. "We see no reason to delay the project."

"It's coming to an end one way or another because this is probably the last step in the court procedure," Linzey said.

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