Transportation committee seeking emergency funds for Route 44 soil slide

A soil slide is deteriorating the shoulder of Route 44’s southbound lane between the villages of Waterville and Ramsey and blocking the Pine Creek Rail Trail below, which sits between the embankment and a stream, said Mark Murawski, Lycoming County’s transportation supervisor, during the Williamsport Area Transportation Study Technical Committee meeting Monday morning.

The slide has narrowed that portion of Route 44 down to one lane and the trail is closed until the slide can be fixed, he said.

“Obviously it’s a safety concern,” he said. “This could continue to move … The worst case scenario, they could end up closing down Route 44.”

To address the collapsing road, Murawski submitted a letter to Leslie Richards, secretary of the state Department of Transportation, requesting about $3 million from the statewide emergency fund, he said.

He hopes to have a response in time for the June 18 Coordinating Committee meeting, he added.

Though it’s reasonable to expect some financial aid from the state, it’s unlikely Richards will approve the full $3 million due to the limited capacity of the emergency fund, said Carey Mullins, a representative from the department’s Harrisburg office and chairman of the Technical Committee. The total cost of requests for emergency funds the department has received so far already surpasses the funds available, he said.

In other business, Murawski told the committee that feedback on the incoming four-year Transportation Improvement Program has been positive. So far, only one change has been requested and that is the addition of a center turning lane to Route 405 between Wolf and Muncy Creek townships.

The committee will recommend the Coordinating Committee officially approve the program update at its meeting June 18.

In another matter, William E. Nichols Jr., committee member and general manager of River Valley Transit, expressed concern over ongoing litigation between the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the state Turnpike Commission over alleged misappropriation of turnpike fees.

The association claims the fees should not be used to help fund budgets for programs such as River Valley Transit, and should only be used to maintain turnpike roads. If the association wins the case, Nichols said much of River Valley Transit’s capital budget could be in jeopardy.

Mullins could not comment on the matter, but Murawski agreed the suit presents a “very big concern.”

“In fact, that has implications across all of the PennDOT programs,” he said.

The next Technical Committee’s meeting will be held Sept. 24.