Residents express concern over highway | News, Sports, Jobs

Sentinel photo by CONNER GOETZ
Center County residents review proposed construction on Route 322 during a PennDOT meeting at Mount Nittany Middle School on Wednesday.

BOALSBURG — Center County residents have expressed concern about potential environmental impact, right-of-way purchases, and a Route 45 connector proposal at PennDOT Community Meetings on the State College Area Connector Program.

The meeting, which allowed residents to review the proposed planning and environmental liaison study for the SCAC project, was held Wednesday and Thursday at Mount Nittany Middle School. The project aims to improve transportation safety and efficiency in southern Center County.

PEL studies are a preliminary step that identifies the general objectives of the project and considers which action plan best meets community, economic and environmental objectives. The results of PEL studies are refined into more detailed Preliminary Engineering/Environmental Studies (NEPA), which assess the specific impacts of the project.

PennDOT District 2 officials presented nine potential alternatives for improving traffic flow along Route 322 and outlined the pros and cons of each proposal.

The end goal is to make Route 322 a four-lane highway that would stretch from Lewistown to the start of the Mount Nittany Highway; currently the highway is still a two-lane from Potters Mills to Boalsburg.

At the meeting, PennDOT said it remains on track to begin construction in 2028.

Three recommended alternatives were highlighted: 322-1OEX, an improvement to the existing roadway, 322-1S, a newly constructed partial section south of the 322, and 332-5, a larger section built farther south than the 322. 322-1S.

After a brief presentation by Kevin James, Associate Vice President of Michael Baker International, an engineering consulting firm, highlighting the findings of the preliminary PEL studies, PennDOT officials conducted a question and answer session with attendees. .

John Collins, a Center Hall resident, asked if it was possible to include accommodations for multimodal transportation, such as electric vehicle charging stations and bus stops, in the final plans.

“With any project we do, especially on a new route, we have to look at all modes of transport,” PennDOT District 2 Manager Tom Zurat said. “Commitment to … multimodal is part of the process, and we will definitely look at that.”

One of the main points of contention during the session was the potential Route 45 connector, which could be built to divert some traffic from Route 322 during the construction process.

“At this point, we just don’t know” Zurat said, “We need to take a closer look at what our traffic pattern will become as we move forward, and does that affect security or not, does that alignment connector need to be there.”

While the fate of the Route 45 connector is still up in the air, another attendee, Janine Page, said she wanted to see further study before a final decision is made.

“I saw the chart where you talked about all the analysis of environmental impacts on birds, wetlands and all those things… I want to make sure that all of this is used to assess whether or not we need of this connector”, said Page.

Resident Keith McElheny inquired about potential right-of-way purchases along the new alignment.

“Every route goes through or through my house, so my fear would be that you would destroy my family by paying me the lowest price my house is worth to get into a recession,” McElheny said.

Currently, PennDOT evaluators evaluate “just compensation” for right-of-way purchases based on local real estate trends, comparable property values ​​and estimated damages, with no specific payment amount.

“We understand that this is not an easy process for anyone, we have a right of way process that we will follow and will work out for anyone who may be affected by the study,” Dean Ball, deputy district manager of PennDOT, said.

Although no date has yet been set, the next public meeting to discuss the results of the NEPA study will take place in winter 2023 or spring 2024.

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