With about $115 million worth of transportation projects slated for funding over the next four years, a project costing $350,000 might not seem high on the list of priorities for the Williamsport Area Transportation Study.
But that money, which will pay for a study of the Route 220 corridor between Williamsport and Jersey Shore, may be among the most important dollars spent in the organization's recently updated Transportation Improvement Program, or TIP.
"It's a very important study," said T Jay Cunningham, acting PennDOT District 3 executive for design. "(Route 220) is a four-lane highway that people drive like an interstate, but it's not an interstate."
For a transportation project to be eligible for federal highway funding, it must be included in a TIP created by a municipal planning organization. The Williamsport Area Transportation Study, also known as WATS, is the organization charged with developing the program and updating
it every two years. The organization is comprised of technical and coordinating committees.
The Route 220 corridor is congested and there are safety concerns, mainly where the highway intersects with other roads and vehicles are turning across lanes of traffic or reversing direction, Cunningham said during a recent meeting in which the organization adopted the program.
There are concerns that development along the highway will make the problem worse by creating more points from which vehicles enter and exit the highway, he said.
"That road is one of the most important roads in Lycoming County," said Mark Murawski, county transportation planner. "It doesn't have an interstate designation, but functions like an interstate, only without the signs."
The agency is asking consulting firm Gannett Fleming Inc. to perform an access management study. The study will determine the best way for development along the highway to access it without causing more congestion or creating safety hazards.
"The last thing you want to do is pop up dozens of new driveways entering that road," Murawski said. "It will cause a safety and congestion nightmare for travelers."
The proposed Interstate 99 Corridor, which would have included that section of Route 220, could have alleviated the problem, he said. However, the chances the project, which is estimated to cost about $300 million, will see the light of day is "slim to none," he said.
"We've got to make do with the existing road for the foreseeable future," Murawski said.
"Making do" is a big component of the 2013-16 TIP. With stagnant state and federal funding for transportation projects, the lion's share of the funding must be used for maintenance.
The TIP approved this past week includes 64 highway and bridge projects worth $74 million and 18 transit projects worth about $41 million.
"Asset management is a priority - taking care of the roads and bridges we already have," Murawski said. "Because of funding constraints, we really have no choice at this point."
Of the 64 road and bridge projects detailed in the program, only seven are new projects, he said. The remaining projects were included in previous TIPs and have already started and are in various stages of completion, he said.
""There's not a lot of new stuff on the program," he said.
"Asset management - everyone agrees it's the logical approach," said Michael Mausteller, PennDOT district design services engineer.
Continuing work includes the rebuilding of Route 15 from Williamsport to Hepburnville, which is expected to cost about $20 million, according to Murawski.
Work also continues on the median safety barrier project on Route 15 south of South Williamsport, Mausteller said. About $21 million was dedicated to the project, which is designed to reduce head-on collisions, from 2010 through this year. The new TIP includes about $5 million for the project, Mausteller said.
Other big ticket items include the realignment of the intersection of Routes 118 and 42 in Jordan Township. The project includes the replacement of a nearby bridge spanning Little Muncy Creek.
Bridge maintenance is a priority in the program, Murawski said. While the county's state-owned bridges are in much better shape compared to the state, the same cannot be said of the municipally owned bridges.
About 25 percent of state-owned bridges are structurally deficient statewide, but only about 10 percent of the state-owned bridges in the county are structurally deficient, Murawski said.
However, up to 45 percent of the county's municipally owned bridges are structurally deficient, he said.
"We need to go to work with fixing a lot more local bridges and need to do it now," he said.
The condition of the county's local bridges may not be worse than those in other counties, Murawski said. The county, through a pilot program designed to identify and catalog small, local bridges, has done more to assess the condition of those bridges, he said.
The transit portion of the program mainly includes River Valley Transit fleet replacement and work toward developing compressed natural gas fueling capabilities.
According to William Nichols Jr., director of River Valley Transit, one natural gas-fueled transit bus is on order. When a filling station is completed next year, three more buses will be ordered, he said.