Elected officials ‘optimistic’ on Route 15 bypass funding

SHAMOKIN DAM – After a variety of obstacles delayed its creation, it was announced Wednesday that the Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway could finally get the funding needed to make the project a reality.

The project would build a bypass around Shamokin Dam and create relief for those traveling Route 15.

“This is an exciting day. A day that I hope will be known as a historic day,” said state Sen. John Gordner, R-Berwick, as he made the announcement at the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce.

The $558 million project would be the largest in the state’s “decade of investment” outlined in Gov. Tom Corbett’s state budget proposal and would cover 13 miles. But Sandra Tosca, state Department of Transportation District 3 executive director, noted that the project’s funding relies on Corbett’s budget being passed.

Gordner, who was joined by a group of elected officials that represented 11 counties, compared the long process of getting the project funded as a “40-year marathon,” which he said “seems like you’re always going uphill.”

Barry Schoch, PennDOT secretary, said he was committed to seeing the project funded and completed. He added that travelers waiting in long lines of traffic doesn’t support the lifestyle and interests of those living in the region.

“This is a project that is long overdue,” Schoch told the audience.

Tosca said if Corbett’s budget is passed in July, the process to create the thruway would begin. Construction would begin around November 2015 with a completion set for 2023.

And although the thruway would be the “big project,” Gordner said there would be “literally 100s of projects” done in the 11 surrounding counties that were represented at the news conference.

Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, explained that one of the projects that also would be funded with Corbett’s budget is a safety improvement to Route 220 between Williamsport and Jersey Shore.

“I think it’s going to be an all-around good project,” he said.

Both Everett and state Sen. E. Eugene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, said the project would have a positive effect on all of the economies in the area.

“As far as economic development, there would not be a bigger impact,” Yaw said on the project.

Yaw also was intrigued by the number of jobs the project could create, saying it was “astounding” to think about.

And with more truck traffic in the area because of gas drilling, Mark Murawski, president of the Route 15 Coalition, said the project was needed. He called Wednesday’s announcement the coalition’s “finest hour.”

“The commitment today couldn’t have been anymore solid,” he said, adding that there were no “loopholes” in the proposal.

Officials agreed that there still could be some “tinkering” with the governor’s proposal before being passed but Everett said he believes that it could receive more funding rather than less.

If the transportation funding comes in less than expected, Schoch said projects would need to be adjusted.

“If (the budget) is less than that it may stretch out the time,” Schoch said.

Gordner said he was an “optimistic person” when it came to the budget passing relatively close to Corbett’s proposal. One encouraging factor is that the project has bipartisan support, Gordner said.

But it would not be without work.

“We still have some work to do,” Gordner reported on getting the proposal passed.

Murawski, too, expects things to work out.

“This has to happen,” he said. “I’m confident the governor and secretary are going to get it done.”