Thruway project on schedule, 2 years out

KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette Work progresses on the Central Susquehanna Valley Transportation Project along Route 147 in Northumberland County.

Although the final completion date of the northern section of the Central Susquehanna Valley Transportation project still is two years out, state officials commend “great progress on the project.”

“Construction sections are going well, so far. We do have a long way to go, but we are making great progress in getting the northern section opened by 2020,” said Matt Beck, assistant district plans engineer for the state Department of Transportation.

The thruway is a new 13-mile four lane limited access highway, which connects Route 147 in Northumberland County near Montandan to Route 15 in Union County near Winfield and to routes 11 and 15 in Snyder County near Selinsgrove. The entire project is expected to cost $670 million. Completion is set for 2024, but according to the department,

the project schedule will be reassessed due to environmental clearances. Start and completion dates for construction should be estimated by this summer.

Weather has not been a factor in the construction schedule, according to Beck, even though it seems as if warmer, more construction-conducive weather has been a long time coming.

“There has certainly been times when the weather has affected construction. When we had several weeks of really cold temperatures over the winter, there wasn’t much work that the contractor was able to do,” Beck said.

“More recently the contractor has been working at setting the piers for the new bridge, but they’ve had to hold off some days due to high winds. But we’ve certainly planned for adverse weather conditions like that,” he said, adding that “we’re on schedule.”

Years of planning have gone into bringing the project to life. Environmental issues in particular had to be dealt with before construction could begin.

“That’s ultimately why it takes so many years to get the project designed and planned before we can start moving any dirt,” he said.

Part of the work on the northern section includes a bridge over the river near Winfield. Work on the bridge began in 2016. When completed, the 4,545-foot-long bridge will include 15 spans and 60- to 180-foot-high piers.

“These are all things that we work out during the design phase and with environmental agencies that regulate those types of resources. Building a new bridge over the Susquehanna River required us to study the floodplain of the river to make sure putting those piers in the river didn’t have an adverse affect on the floodplain — that we weren’t backing up the flood waters.”

“There’s a variety of wetlands and streams that are impacted by the new highways being built over them so we have to find ways to minimize those impacts or mitigate them by creating new wetlands somewhere near the project area,” Beck said.

Other environmental issues the project faced were concerns about endangered species in the construction area. In the northern section, parts of the project area provide habitats for the eastern spadefoot toad, which, Beck noted, the state’s Fish and Boat Commission recognizes as a threatened species.

“So, we had to take special precautions to make sure if there are toads in that area-first identify the area that could support those toads. We put up a barrier to make sure the toads don’t get into the construction in the work zone,” he said.

Then there were bats whose winter hibernation couldn’t be disturbed by the construction and the rock formations that had the potential to create acid runoff when exposed to the elements.

“That was a consideration during the design phase and once we got into the initial construction we had to do testing in those areas to find out more detail to determine if the rock had the potential to produce acid runoff, and make sure we were handling it if it did,” according to Beck.

Travellers in the construction area should not experience delays related to the thruway project although a separate project on Route 147 that is going on at the same time could have some impact on driving. That will affect car traffic through the area using Interestate 80 and Route 15.

“As far as CSVT construction itself this summer, over on Route 15, we have some lane restrictions there as work is completed on the new interchange there between the new four-lane highway and Route 15,” he noted.

With construction progressing south of here to alleviate congestion and accommodate growth, area municipalities in this area are beginning to study the possible impact here.

“Our studies for the project have focused on the area more closely to the project,” Beck said.

“It’s likely as the new highway is built, it completes what we call the missing link in the route 15 corridor in Central Pennsylvania, that there may be additional development along these interchanges, such as 147 and even futher north.”

“Lycoming County expects there to be some effect as traffic is rerouted and development patterns might change. They’re just starting to take a closer look at traffic patterns up in this area so they can get a better handle on how they can manage any changes that are caused by CSVT,” he said.

A recent article in the Sun-Gazette stated the Lycoming County commissioners approved funding for a traffic-impact study to determine the effects of the thruway on the city and region as it relates to industrial development along the Route 15 corridor.

“It’s certainly going to have long-term and far-reaching benefits not only for the immediate area in Northumberland and Snyder and Union counties. In that area, it will improve safety on the major existing roadways. It will reduce congestion that we see throughout the region and accommodate future growth and should have benefits that extend outside of that immediate project area, too,” Beck said.