People who live near proposed routes share their strong opinions on State College Area Connector Project options
This week, PennDOT hosted two public meetings to get public input on the State College Area Connector Project. The project aims to improve traffic and safety on U.S. Route 322 east of town where it’s still a two-lane road. PennDOT is considering nine options that include upgrading Route 322 or building alternative corridors along Route 322 or Route 144.
At the Centre Hall Fire Station meeting, there were mixed opinions from the public about which alternative PennDOT should focus on, including strong opposition to certain options. Residents chatted with PennDOT experts, watched presentations and studied large maps of the different route options for the State College Area Connector Project. There was also a comment box available for people to share their input. PennDOT Press Officer Marla Fannin said public feedback is a crucial component of the process.
“A lot of this can be personal if somebody is looking at an alignment that could impact their properties. So that becomes personal. We need to know those things and we want to have a feel for how they’re feeling and what’s important to them,” Fannin said.
Fannin said PennDOT wants the final decision to make sense to the majority of people. Shari Edelson lives in Aaronsburg in east Penns Valley. She said she prefers an option near the existing course of Route 322, rather than an option that puts a new highway along Route 144.
“One of the greatest values of the existing landscape in Penns Valley and along Route 144 currently is that we have an intact rural agricultural landscape, small family farms, no commercial or residential subdivisions, and it’s one of the really special places in Centre County that I think, you know, should be valued and protected,” Edelson said.
"Destroying this Colyer area is not a good idea,” Tom Siegenthaler said as he pointed to a map of the route options. He said many of the routes would negatively impact farmland. He lives in Potters Mills, near the east end of the connector project.
“I think when we look at a lot of this township and this end of Penns Valley, there’s a lot of valuable agricultural land here that doesn’t need to be disrupted,” Siegenthaler said.
Ultimately, Siegenthaler said the highway should be built on a 322 route toward State College instead of through Penns Valley, despite pushback from Harris Township.
“There was quite a lot of stuff originally in the Gazette newspaper about Harris Township complaining about carbon footprint and this and that and everything else. And now I see they’ve come up with a new idea that they’re talking about, ‘Oh, we don’t want to destroy our commercial opportunities in here.’ But that’s the route to State College,” Siegenthaler said.
However, Harris Township representatives said their concerns about the environment are legitimate. Harris Township Supervisor Frank Harden said the township is in favor of one of the options along Route 144 because it would mean a shorter route for trucks and cars headed to I-80.
“One of the reasons we like that route going from Potters Mills to Pleasant Gap, it’s seven miles, and it will reduce the greenhouse gasses. Less travel. The other route, if they go, come up to State College and then go back to Bellefonte to get on 80, it’s 22 miles,” Harden said.
Harden said some of PennDOT’s proposed options would impact Harris Township businesses, including Tate Farms and Tussey Mountain, homes, farmland and the township’s new $4 million maintenance facility.
“The one route would have gotten rid of our entire industrial part. We don’t have another one. So now, we would have no industry in Harris Township if that were to happen,” Harden said.
Amy Farkas is the Harris Township Manager. She said Harris Township residents have been vocal about the matter, and she hopes their concerns are heard.
“We have 6,000 residents, we’re a great place, but I don’t think at the end of the day, Harrisburg’s going to care what Harris Township totally has to say about this project,” Farkas said.
Farkas said the long duration of the planning process and the overall uncertainty has been hard on residents.
“There are people that are making just gut-wrenching life decisions based on not knowing where our road’s going to go. There are people that are looking at their livelihoods, they’re looking at, do I want to invest in a home here? Do I want to sell my home? Because they’re so afraid the road is going to end up next to them,” Farkas said.
Fannin said PennDOT plans to narrow the nine options down to “maybe two or three” this summer. Then another round of public input will take place. Those who were not present at this week’s meetings can share their thoughts by visiting the PennDOT website and submitting a comment.