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Study forecasts roadway maintenance, few new projects

As president and owner of Shumaker Trucking Co., David Shumaker knows that getting around the Harrisburg area is not always easy, but he and other area business owners also know that with limited transportation improvement funds, choices need to be made.

As president and owner of Shumaker Trucking Co., David Shumaker knows that getting around the Harrisburg area is not always easy, but he and other area business owners also know that with limited transportation improvement funds, choices need to be made.

The Harrisburg Area Transportation Study (HATS) is making those choices as it updates its Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) for the federal fiscal years 2009 to 2012.

The plan includes no major new projects but continues improvements to several projects already under way.

"Funding is so tight right now,"

Diane Myers-Krug, transportation planner for HATS, said. "We're working on carryover projects like (improvements to) 15/581 and maintenance of our current system."

Two reconstruction projects for U.S. Route 15 and State Route 581 include plans to replace or widen bridges, widen the roadway, construct a new interchange at Lower Allen Drive (formerly Zimmerman Drive) and improve exit and entrance ramps. The total cost of the two phases of construction is estimated at $114.1 million. Work should be finished by 2011.

Total allocation for highways and bridges is $282 million over the four years, Myers-Krug said. An additional $52 million is available for transit, she said.

This amount does not include any discretionary funding that may come from the state Legislature, Myers-Krug said. Those decisions will be made in March, and a report for public review will be available in May.

Terry Adams, planning and program manager for PennDOT's District 8, said with limited available resources, the HATS will focus on four priorities: fixing structurally deficient bridges, maintaining the existing infrastructure, providing safety and managing capacity.

"Our department's emphasis has changed in the past several years," Adams said. With the collapse of a major highway bridge in Minneapolis, bridge safety took priority over new bypasses, new roadways or realignments, he said.

"The 15/581 area is a unique problem," Adams said.

The traffic flow and congestion mean more potential for accidents, but the route also includes three bridges that are in need of upgrades, he said. The York split, where Interstate 83 and Route 581 converge, is another area of concern, he said. Traffic backs up in both directions during morning and evening rush hours.

"It's not an active project, but it is on our radar screen," he said.

The HATS is an organization of federal, state, and local agencies and officials from Cumberland, Dauphin, and Perry counties, the city of Harrisburg and Capital Area Transit. Its official federal designation is a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). The HATS study area includes Dauphin, Cumberland, and Perry counties as well as Palmyra Borough and North and South Londonderry townships in Lebanon County.

Funding for HATS includes money from Act 44 of 2007, which created a partnership between PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, based on PennDOT leasing Interstate 80 to the Turnpike Commission to convert it to a toll road. The Turnpike Commission then provides annual payments to PennDOT to fund highway, bridge and public-transit improvements and operations. HATS would receive 3.74 percent of the funding from the bill, amounting to $13 million for Federal fiscal year 2007-2008, and increasing to $15 million by 2011-2012.

However, the Federal Highway Administration must approve the toll plan, something federal officials have not yet completed.

"Tolls on I-80 are just a short-term solution," Shumaker said. "A fuel tax is the fairest way to increase revenues. We need another 15 cents per gallon to finance what we need."

His fleet of 25 trucks stays within 400 miles of its Dillsburg headquarters.

Infrastructure is the key component to transportation issues, Shumaker said, but he sees congestion as less of a priority than maintaining current roads.

"I'd rather see our highways and bridges updated," he said. "We need to take care of the roads we have already."

Shumaker noted that compared with other major cities, the Harrisburg area has much less congestion.

James Runk, president and chief executive officer of the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association, agreed that congestion is more of an issue in larger cities, but that it still affects his members' drivers. Most of the association's 2,200 members drive tractor trailers or dump trucks, he said.

"With more congestion comes more interaction between vehicles, and more potential for accidents," he said. "Safety is a main concern." He would like to see Interstate 83 interchanges on the east side of the city improved.

Those kinds of improvements are what members of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber are hoping for as well, said David Black, president of the organization.

"Our members know we can't build our way out of the issue," he said. "We'd like to see more funding for mass transit, a commuter rail and lower gas prices."

Jim Germak, owner of Jagtrux Inc. in Marietta, believes Route 581 and northbound Interstate 83 at the Eisenhower interchange are the areas most in need of improvement.

"I know the budget is limited," Germak said. "But maybe some new signage might help. An ITS [Intelligent Transportation System] might help to warn about troubled areas, too."

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