Forgotten link remains a debacle

There might not now be a missing four-lane, limited-access Route 22 between Hollidaysburg and the Lewistown Bypass if the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation hadn’t erred in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

That was the time when PennDOT embraced a stubborn stance dictating that a new Route 22 would have to bisect the Hollidaysburg Area School District complex, at least in part to save money, rather than use one of several available – albeit more expensive – corridor alternatives that would have spared impact on the schools.

After years of meetings and public hearings, all the while with the threat of a lawsuit by a Save Our Schools group hanging over the proposed project, the plans for a new Route 22 through the Hollidaysburg area and points east was shelved and presumably continue to repose somewhere within the highway agency’s catacomb of failed endeavors.

The state refused to spend extra money then but will spend much more if an effort to build a new highway around Hollidaysburg ever again materializes.

That seems unlikely, considering the limited highway money currently available; spinelessness by lawmakers in terms of adopting tax and fee policies that would open a financial window for such new construction; the existing highway and bridge deterioration that must be addressed now and in coming years; plus the routine maintenance work that must be carried out each year.

District 9 PennDOT Executive Thomas Prestash, in an article in the Nov. 3 Mirror, called the current antiquated Route 22 corridor between Hollidaysburg and Lewistown “the forgotten link.”

He would have described it more accurately if he had called it “PennDOT’s billion-dollar debacle.”

That is the estimated price tag for constructing the new Hollidaysburg-to-Lewistown link if the project were undertaken now.

The cost will increase each year that the project remains in limbo.

It is interesting to hear comments about the long-delayed project by people such as Prestash; state Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., R-Blair; and Ed Silvetti, executive director of the Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission.

What makes those comments interesting is that all ignore the big error made four decades ago by the state and its highways arm.

A way should have been found to build the project then, when the project would have cost much less.

Although some new highways were built in area counties over the past four decades, projects like Route 22 east that had been steeped in controversy remained on the back burner.

Meanwhile, the state’s highway-money challenges became more serious and the prospects for building projects like the one in question became more remote.

In the Nov. 3 Mirror article, Eichelberger is quoted as agreeing with Silvetti that Route 22 as a new road through Huntingdon is “not on the list.”

However, despite the financial limitations and the unlikely prospects that now exist for getting the job done, advocacy work on its behalf should be rekindled.

Acknowledging the mistakes of the past should be the first step.

Too bad that hasn’t already occurred.