POTTERS MILLS - In recent weeks surveyors have been out on Seven Mountains taking measurements on U.S. 322 in the area of Potters Mills as part of an ambitious project to expand the major highway.
The Potters Mills Gap project will cost $105 million, which doesn't include the final design or the right of way.
During a recent meeting held by the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County, Pennsylvania's Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch said that right now the focus on U.S. 322 is in the area of Potters Mills, calling it the "most critical" portion of the overall project.
Sentinel photo by KIERNAN M. SCHALK
After navigating a two-lane highway from Boalsburg to just outside Potters Mills, motorists again move onto a four-lane highway before descending the mountain toward Mifflin County
Schoch stood before a large audience at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center and said that he hoped the next time he speaks at a CBICC event, he'll be able to talk about when the next phase of the project will start, which prompted a round of applause from those in attendance.
Dan O. Hawbaker, one of the owners of Glenn O. Hawbaker Inc., a large construction company in central Pennsylvania and one of the principal companies that constructed the Lewistown Narrows expansion, also attended that meeting.
Hawbaker said he worries a great deal about the safety of U.S. 322 between Potters Mills and Boalsburg. He pointed out the large amount of tractor trailer traffic and that there are various school bus stops on the road. Hawbaker laid out a plausible nightmare scenario in which a tractor trailer is unable to stop for a school bus picking up children.
Steven Fantechi, Design Services Engineer with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, said the intersection where U.S. 322 and state Route 144 meet at the bottom of the mountain at Potters Mills has a dangerous crash history.
Since 2004 several safety improvements have been put in place, including rumble strips on either side of the roadway and the center divide, as well as the construction of a few new turning lanes and the white guide dots painted onto the roadway surface to help motorists maintain a safe distance from one another.
The daily traffic volume is around 15,640 vehicles, 2,600 of which are tractor trailers. Those numbers are predicted to climb to 19,550 and 3,250, respectively, by 2040.
There was a public meeting held in Penns Valley recently and Fantechi said it was well attended by people from Mifflin and Centre counties.
"The public meeting went very well, there was over 250 people," he said.
Fantechi said the project is currently in the environmental study phase.
He also says he anticipates minimal environmental impact from the project, despite the amount of earth that will be moved.
The four-year project will likely have several construction sections. Bid letting could begin in the winter of 2014, with construction beginning in 2015.
When the project is finished it will resemble the Lewistown Narrows, with staggered roads and retaining walls, Fantechi said.
The four lane road will run just south of its current location behind the Potters Mills American Legion through Triester and Kohler Mountains.
In addition to the expansion of U.S. 322, several access roads will also have to be constructed as part of the overall project.
There are also plans to construct a bridge at the turnoff for Poe Valley State Park and Seven Mountains Scout Camp.