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I-81 safety upgrades anticipated

November 24, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

While the study and implementation of widespread improvements along Interstate 81 could take several years, the State Highway Administration hopes to make some more immediate safety upgrades, thanks to some pending federal funding.

One SHA spokesman said the federal money could result in one or more safer ramps.

Democratic Senators Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes announced Saturday that $992,000 of the $388 billion in the fiscal year 2005 Omnibus Appropriations spending bill has been earmarked for improvements to I-81. The legislation passed the House of Representatives and is expected to pass the Senate and be signed by President Bush, according to a news release from Mikulski's office.

SHA spokesman David Buck said the SHA is opting against putting the money toward a larger improvement project for I-81 that could include widening or the addition of acceleration/deceleration lanes.

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"We're grateful for the million dollars. What we're going to do is work on a short-term safety improvement," Buck said. "We wanted to put this money to use much, much sooner."

Buck said studies are under way for improvements to I-81, which could cost up to $450 million and are expected to take several years to implement.

Buck said the administration most likely will use the federal allocation to make improvements on an I-81 ramp south of Halfway Boulevard. Buck said that project has been funded and work will begin in the spring to "smooth out" a curve on a ramp from eastbound Interstate 70 to I-81. Buck said doing so will give motorists more time to slow down.

He said the new money could go toward similar improvements at ramps in that area, as well.

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