Route 22 link still unfulfilled

If local-level leaders had been more aggressively involved in planning early-on for the four-lane, limited-access Route 22 in Blair County in the 1960s, this county might now have the eastern link between the Duncansville-Hollidaysburg area and the Huntingdon County line.

The fact that that early state-local cooperative involvement was missing or minimal was consistent with highway planning up to that time. Municipal officials “did their thing” regarding local roadways within their jurisdiction, but the state had virtually all say about the direction of work and projects associated with state highways.

The Route 22 eastern link died in the early 1970s amid heated controversy because of its perceived negative impact on schools of the Hollidaysburg Area School District — controversy that could have been avoided if an open early channel for listening had existed back then.

Now, with federal and state highway funds more limited and uncertain — even with President Donald Trump’s promise of a major infrastructure-improvement initiative about which there’s so far been little if any progress — the eastern link might forever remain an unfulfilled dream.

Over the years since the 1970s, although communication between the state Department of Transportation and local officials has improved greatly, there still have been instances when better early-on communication between a municipality and PennDOT could have helped improve a project or keep its cost down.

An article in the March 3 Mirror referred to several recent Altoona area projects that benefited from early-on local-state dialogue.

In place for about a year has been a statewide initiative known as PennDOT Connects, which is aimed at ensuring that local officials have an opportunity to influence state projects within their borders during the early stages of the state’s planning.

Any local-level official, in any of this county’s municipalities, who isn’t up to speed about PennDOT Connects, or who has questions, should get in touch with PennDOT for the important information that’s available.

State Transportation Secretary Leslie Richards, writing on the PennDOT website last year, explained the reason why:

“In the past, we’d get through a good chunk of design for a project and something would come up when talking to our partners — the township wants a pedestrian walkway or new streetlights — and it could ultimately affect our project delivery. With PennDOT Connects, we should avoid some of those surprises.”

While PennDOT’s District 9, which serves Blair and some surrounding counties, is reported to have used such a procedure for several years, now that procedure is formalized under the PennDOT Connects statewide umbrella.

Local officials, most of whom have no training as transportation planners, nevertheless have good insight of their municipality’s needs, and that insight should be tapped long before project bidding takes place or work by PennDOT workers is about to begin.

Tens of thousands of dollars — probably much more — were spent on planning for the Route 22 eastern sector in the 1960s, and there’s still no concrete in place resulting from that expenditure, because the final corridor decision ignored valid local concerns.

If PennDOT Connects had existed then, there likely would have been a different, correct outcome.