POTTERS MILLS - Among the Seven Mountains, on a dangerous stretch of highway, a large group of people gathered at a press conference at the Potters Mills VFW to stress the need for infrastructure funding in Pennsylvania.
The recent passage of Pennsylvania Senate Bill 1, which would bring an annual $2.5 billion to an infrastructure investment bank, still has to pass the House. Gov. Tom Corbett has long touted the need to create such a funding resource for infrastructure repairs. His proposal had a $2 billion price tag.
The funding would mainly come from phasing out the artificial wholesale price cap on fuel under the Oil Company Franchise Tax, which was enacted in 1983.
State Sen. Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, was among those who attended the press conference on Thursday.
"One of the most dangerous highways in Pennsylvania is in our own backyard," Corman said, referring to U.S. 322, specifically the section between Potters Mills and Boalsburg in Centre County. If an infrastructure bill is passed, that could all change.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has announced its intention to turn the now two-lane highway into a four-lane roadway, at an estimated cost of $105 million. Presently, 13,000 vehicles travel this stretch of road daily, a number that shoots up to 20,000 on days when Penn State plays home football games.
Kevin Kline with PennDOT District 2, said he would like to push forward with an official public meeting sometime in July, to unveil possible options for the project.
In addition to helping fund infrastructure repairs on structurally deficient bridges, the funding would also help with public transportation and dam repairs, such as the one needed at Colyer Lake, which was recently partially drained, because it was deemed a hazard due to its age.
Pennsylvania has the most structurally deficient bridges in the country, according to PennDOT documents.
State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, described the lengthy process over several decades in improving U.S. 322, which started with the Harrisburg Narrows, then the Lewistown Narrows.
The Potters Mills project would be the third important piece of the puzzle, Benninghoff said.
Benninghoff said he has some sad memories of this particular stretch of road from his days as the Centre County Coroner.
"Bottom line is this is an investment ... I'm looking forward to seeing that dirt fly," Benninghoff said.
Potter Township Supervisor Dick Decker also stressed the need to improve safety on the road, highlighting how difficult it is first responders to get to the scene of accident.
PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch said investing in infrastructure is a choice and one that has to be made, or Pennsylvania will continue to fall behind economically.
The aging infrastructure in this country is 50 years old, Schoch said.
"We have to rebuild it from the ground up," he said.
If nothing is done, an additional 1,400 bridges will be placed on weight restrictions in the coming years, costing the agricultural community millions of dollars, Schoch said.
Schoch said he hopes there will be only minimal impact on the community that stretches along the corridor.
"We need to get moving on this project, it's been talked about enough," he added.
At this point, Kline said they are in the Environmental Stage of the project, consulting with the Department Environmental Protection and other state agencies.
Schoch said federal money for transportation infrastructure improvements has remained stagnant over the years and many states, including Maryland, Ohio, New York and Massachusetts have set up similar infrastructure banks.