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Long-awaited I-99 stretch opens

December 18, 2007
By Greg Bock, gbock@altoonamirror.com
STATE COLLEGE — Interstate 99 opened Monday amidst snow flurries and snowplows.

PennDOT District 2 officials announced that the road would open hours before barriers and barrels started coming down at the two access points between Bald Eagle and Skytop, where the ongoing acid rock cleanup has kept I-99 unfinished.

About 1 p.m., I-99 north and southbound lanes opened at the Port Matilda interchange in Centre County.

At Bald Eagle in northern Blair County, the ubiquitous barrels and signs marking the former end to the expressway came down and I-99’s entrance ramp was cleared of snow for the opening of northbound lanes after 3 p.m.

PennDOT District 2 spokeswoman Marla Fannin said officials worked throughout the weekend to prepare for the long-awaited opening.

Fannin said Centre County has added two additional plows to its 23-truck fleet to handle the new highway.

PennDOT’s Centre County Maintenance Manager Ron Chubb said crews worked two shifts Sunday starting at 4 a.m. and another Monday to get the road cleared for Monday’s opening.

But, like southbound motorists, the crews still have to contend with only being able to access I-99 at Port Matilda.

‘‘Not having the entire interstate open is going to create problems,’’ Chubb said, pointing out the department’s stockyard for salt and anti-skid is along Route 220 just north of Bald Eagle. This will mean more miles for plows as they have to double back onto Route 220 to resupply before turning around and going back to Port Matilda to get back onto I-99.

Chubb said it’s still too early to gage how much extra it will cost to keep the highway clear in winter weather, but crews are prepared for whatever Nature may dole out.

‘‘Skytop is one of the highest elevations in the county and I suspect we’ll have some problem areas,’’ Chubb added.

PennDOT’s District 9 spokeswoman Tara Callahan said Blair County maintenance crews estimate the addition of I-99 will mean an extra ton and a half of anti-skid and salt per pass. Blair County will have four miles of four lane highway added onto its clearing responsibilities.

‘‘Basically, it will cost about $80 extra per round trip of a truck,’’ Callahan said Monday.

Motorists using the roughly 15 mile ribbon of pavement between Bald Eagle and Skytop won’t likely see the remaining few miles in Patton Township completed before at least next summer, but even with the partial opening the drive time between Blair County and State College will drop dramatically.

Motorists still have to drive to Port Matilda to access southbound I-99. On Monday, at 5 p.m., the eight mile drive south from the end of the Mount Nittany Expressway in Patton Township to the entrance ramp of southbound I-99 at Port Matilda took more than 20 minutes. The 13.4 miles of I-99 between Port Matilda and the Tyrone exit took 13 minutes.

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