Plans are under way to fix the infamous York Split in Cumberland County to make it friendlier to businesses whose employees and customers need to use it to drive north from York County or elsewhere on the West Shore.
The most obvious change eventually will be the addition of a second northbound lane for vehicles continuing on I-83 into Dauphin County. Today, drivers who want to stay on northbound I-83 must merge into a single lane at the split, with the remainder of traffic continuing straight on Route 581.
There are two lanes for southbound traffic.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation also plans to redirect ramps that flow traffic into the interchange or place concrete barriers to help more safely corral traffic in the area, said PennDOT District 8 spokesman Greg Penny.
Crews will have to remove the bridge that carries Lowther Street over I-83 right at the split and make the span wider to create enough space for the additional interstate lane, Penny said.
Businesses looking for immediate relief won't get it, however.
Construction is expected to begin in fall 2013 and finish in 2015. PennDOT plans to spend the time between now and the start of construction finishing the designs and acquiring needed properties, which are expected to be minimal, according to PennDOT's website reviewing the project plans.
The estimated $24 million project originally was planned as a larger $200 million reworking of the interchange. That project was part of an even larger $1 billion overhaul of Interstate 83 from the split to where the roadway meets Interstate 81 in Dauphin County, Penny said. Crews would have worked from east to west and ended at the York Split.
The project as a whole did not materialize as transportation funds began to dry up beginning several years ago. But considering the severity of backups in the area, and with frequent fender benders, PennDOT officials decided to make this plan a reality, Penny said.
"It is one of the worst transportation bottlenecks we have in our region," Penny said. "We don't have to wait for the big project."
The plans appear to make improvements to the York Split that should benefit commuters and businesses alike, said Tom Donley, president of the York County Chamber of Commerce.
Companies such as construction firms or fuel haulers use the split to get to customers and work sites in other portions of the midstate, and trucking firms use it for hauling goods to Northeastern markets, Donley said.
There are also many people who live in northern York County and commute to the Harrisburg area, Donley said. And there possibly could be more if not for the severity of traffic jams around the York Split, he said.
The split is a barrier to the area realizing its true real estate potential, Donley said.
Anything that can be done to reduce morning traffic in an area is a good thing for selling houses, said Chris Detweiler, associate broker and sales manager in the Howard Hanna Real Estate Services office in Camp Hill.
If commute times can be reduced through infrastructure additions, then it enables people to live farther from their jobs or businesses. The West Shore and down into York County are places that could benefit from such improvements, Detweiler said.
Many people already know about the York Split traffic when home-shopping, Detweiler said.
Real estate agents working near the split could get a boost especially from commuting couples who might increasingly start considering the area if the husband works in Harrisburg and the wife in York, for example.
Of course, any project means short-term pain during construction for the long-term gain of additional roadway capacity. Hopefully the construction can be completed in as little time as possible, Detweiler said.