The Punxsutawney Spirit
PennDOT hearing expands on I-80 plans
BROOKVILLE — PennDOT and the Federal Highway Administration Agency held an open house and public hearing regarding the replacement of the Interstate 80 North Fork Bridge on Tuesday.
Testimonies taken were specifically in regard to the environmental assessment of the project. Public comments will be accepted for a 30-day period, which began on April 18 and will end on May 18.
According to information given by PennDOT, the proposed project will replace the I-80 North Fork Bridges. PennDOT said the bridges are ending their serviceable lifespan, with the eastbound bridge being in poor condition and the westbound in fair condition.
PennDOT has identified several areas of concern that need to be addressed:
• Current and increasing volumes of traffic: I-80 is a major trucking route through Pennsylvania, and this portion of the corridor is a vital thoroughfare for the rural western part of the state.
• The bridges’ aging structure: The structures have become susceptible to fatigue-related fractures because of their age and the amount of wear and tear caused by vehicles.
• The need for design improvements: The existing roadway system is outdated and does not meet current design standards. Specifically, the curve on the western edge of the eastbound bridge is not suitable for 70 mph traffic, and many crashes, nearly twice the state average, have occurred on this segment of I-80.
The project proposes to replace three sets of bridges in the project area:
• The eastbound and westbound bridges on I-80 over the North Fork/ Redbank Creek and Water Plant Road.
• The eastbound and westbound bridges on I-80 over Jenks Street.
• The eastbound and westbound bridges on Richardsville Road over I-80.
To address the substandard curvature of the eastbound North Fork Bridge, this project includes the realignment of the eastbound bridge to run parallel to the westbound bridge, which will be reconstructed in its existing location. The existing roadway on I-80 eastbound will be abandoned.
In addition, this project will extend three existing culverts. Two lanes of traffic in both directions on I-80 will
be maintained during construction. According to the information given by PennDOT, the project is a candidate for bridge tolling through the Major Bridge Public-Private Partnership Initiative, as part of the PennDOT Pathways program.
The estimated cost of the replacement will be between $160 and $190 million. PennDOT said the North Fork Bridge replacement is one of nine projects being evaluated for a bridge toll. Based on public and stakeholder feedback, as well as the proximity of the two candidate bridges on the western and eastern ends of I-80, PennDOT has decided to pursue one-way tolling on the North Fork Bridge.
Traffic would be tolled westbound. Tolls are expected to be $1 to 2 dollars per passenger car using E-ZPass at each toll location, and higher for toll-by-plate and for medium or heavy trucks. Exact tolling amounts will be determined after the design plans are finalized, so the toll will generate enough revenue for the bridge’s replacement, maintenance and operations for an approximately 30-year period. At the end of the 30-year term, the tolling system would be removed. Qualifying emergency vehicles would be permitted to pass at no cost. Tolling is expected to begin collection between 2023 and 2025.
A toll collection facility will be constructed on the westbound lane, first at a temporary facility where the Route 28 on-ramp merges onto westbound I-80. A long-term facility will be constructed just west of the new bridges. The facility would not require drivers to stop to pay a toll when using the bridge, but would record vehicles passing under the gantry sensor. Signs will be placed prior to the nearest exit and along the local roadway to alert drivers to the toll.
The first person to give public testimony was Dr. Harold Webster, of DuBois. Webster said he has lived in the area for over 40 years and has traveled I-80 innumerable times. He said he is also familiar with the primary diversion route through Brookville.
His concerns mainly dealt with traffic flow and volumes, as well as impacts to the businesses in Jefferson County. He said the published study took into account that drivers that would use the primary diversion route through Brookville to avoid the tolls, and concluded that the project would do more good than harm. He said he supports the project, including the tolling of the westbound lane, as a way to alleviate the taxpayer burden.
Jarred Heuer, executive director of the Clarion County Economic Development Corporation, spoke next. He said he was that the CCEDC stands in opposition to the project. He said the tolls would undermine I-80 as an economic anchor and asset for business attraction, as well as adversely affect the quality of the two counties’ downtowns. He said the tolling of the bridges is not a funding solution his organization can support.
He said according to the environmental assessment, approximately 31,000 vehicles travel across the
North Fork Bridge a day, and that four percent would be diverted through Brookville, — over 1,200 vehicles.
Arthur McKinley spoke next. He said he is a local resident, as well as serving on the Brookville Area Chamber of Commerce board, the borough planning committee, the Jefferson County Historical and Genealogical Society, the board of Historic Brookville Inc., and the Greenburg Cadillac Museum board.
He requested the construction be done in such a way as to keep two lanes of traffic running both directions on the interstate to avoid detours through Brookville, and that funding be made available to get rid of all traces of the old eastbound bridge structure, the approach lanes and the land taken by eminent domain be returned to the community. He said funds to mitigate the impacts to Walter Dick Memorial Park are also requested.
He and the people he has talked are opposed to the tolls due to the increased traffic through Brookville, and asked that if tolls are mandated, stations are placed at intervals across I-80, rather than being concentrated at the North Fork Bridge.
County Commissioner Scott North then spoke. He said the community wants the bridges maintained and rehabilitated, but tolling will have an undesirable effect on the community. He asked that if tolling is mandated, an exemption be put in place for residents of Jefferson, Clearfield and Clarion counties.
Dave Taylor, Brookville Borough Council member, said council is on record as opposing the tolling, and believes that tolls are being considered here because Clarion and Jefferson County are “low on population and low on political influence.” He said the increased traffic would create an environmental hazard, and opposed the study’s listing of only one landmark in Brookville.
“Brookville has a 100-acre, nationally registered historic district, which has been on the national registry since 1984. I would suggest that if this map fails to show that as a historic site, what else is not shown?” he said.
Karen Allgeier, vice president of Brookville Borough Council, spoke last. She said she couldn’t imagine the effect on the downtown and downtown businesses when trucks funnel through Brookville because they do not want to wait in line. She said the borough does not have the budget to fix everything that will be affected by the increased truck traffic. She said Main Street is a PennDOT road, and there is no guarantee that it will be returned to its previous state after the project.
“We don’t have the money or the people to fill all of these potholes in the wintertime. It will also become a nightmare trying to plow during wintertime for people and businesses in downtime,” Allgeier said.
Anyone who still wants to submit testimony may do so until May 18 online at www.penndot.pa.gov/ i80NorthFork, through email at i80NorthFork@pa.gov, or through the mail to PennDOT District 10, Attn: I-80 North Fork Bridges Project, 2550 Oakland Ave., Indiana, PA 15701-3388.