Senator says transportation project, gas keys to growth

Hope remains for a shortcut on Route 15 that bypasses often gridlocked traffic at Shamokin Dam and cuts the amount of time it takes to get to points south of here.

The proposed Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway is just one of the projects that State Sen. Eugene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, said he’d like to see tackled in the upcoming legislative session.

While funding for the nearly $600 million transportation project that has been in the works for years has not been finalized, Yaw is optimistic that new, creative ideas can be used to help pay for the job. He said a public-private partnership that could include using tolls is one option.

“I don’t think I ever heard anybody say no,” Yaw said constituents told him about tolling the Thruway when he was campaigning for office.

Yaw said the project would be a huge economic boost for central Pennsylvania.

“It would be the key to the door,” he said. “If you stop and think about it, you can leave Florida and drive to the Saint Lawrence Seaway and the only place you’re going to hit a red light is in Shamokin Dam.”

The project would complete an updated north-south Route 15 corridor.

Increased use of area highways from the Marcellus Shale industry is another reason the stretch of Route 15 needs to be changed, Yaw said.

The cost of the project, which is estimated to take 10 to 12 years to complete, would be made more tolerable being paid during that length of time, according to Yaw.

Yaw, who was recently appointed as chairman of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said he and Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester, are introducing legislation that would provide more access to natural gas. He said that only about half of Pennsylvania’s citizens have access to natural gas, which presently is a lower-cost heating option to oil or electricity.

Yaw said the proposed legislation would provide incentives to larger users such as schools and businesses to convert to natural gas, which in turn would spur residential expansion of natural gas use.

The state’s massive Marcellus Shale reserves should be put to use from where it originates, he said.

“Why shouldn’t Pennsylvania residents be able to at least have the option to take advantage of that?” said Yaw.

The senator said the gas industry in the region has “leveled off a little bit,” but that’s to be expected.

“We had nothing,” he said of available infrastructure when companies began locating here five years ago. “They had to build roads, (drilling) pads and water supplies.”

He said the gas companies he has talked with report that they plan to drill several more wells on sites already in operation.

Drilling fees that have been paid by companies to the state have brought in $42 million to Yaw’s senatorial district. He said Act 13 legislation, which was passed last June, was the best and quickest way to infuse that much money into the area. In all, $204 million was paid to the state through Act 13 in its first year of existence for such projects as road and bridge improvements, housing, public safety and environmental programs.

“I’m not sure how a piece of legislation could work out any better, frankly,” Yaw said.

“That wasn’t a one-shot deal,” he added.

Even more revenue is expected next year with increased drilling, he said.

With the cost of natural gas dropping by 67 percent in the past five years, Yaw said more manufacturing companies are doing business in the United States.

“Hopefully, they’ll move back to Pennsylvania,” he said.