Ken Hartley is a construction worker for New Enterprise Stone and Lime Co., helping to build bridges and highways.
For the past week or so, he has been working on a $2.6 million bridge replacement project over the little Juniata River on Old Route 220 in Tipton, just a stone's throw from DelGrosso's Amusement Park.
Even though he's busy been this summer, working on other bridge projects in Claysburg, Osterburg and beyond, he said, "We need to get some funding."
Erik Lindberg, the manager of Hoss's Steak and Sea House along Route 22 in Huntingdon, agrees. While Route 22 is the major road through the county, it's not been expanded to four lanes as it is in other areas as it connects Pittsburgh, Altoona, Huntingdon and Lewistown to Harrisburg and Interstate 78.
The section from Pittsburgh to Duncansville has been vastly improved in recent years, but the old road remains through Hollidaysburg and Huntingdon to Lewistown.
An Altoona native, Lindberg has served on Huntingdon Borough Council and on the board of Huntingdon County Business and Industry Inc., which supports improvements to Route 22.
Lindberg said the funds that used to be available to build a four-lane limited access Route 22 through Blair and Huntingdon counties are no longer available, and he said it will be a struggle to free funds in the future for a major upgrade.
He has visions of connecting the Huntingdon area to Interstate 99 by improving Route 22 to Route 453 at Water Street and on to Tyrone. This would help the county to stay competitive in today's economy, where goods have to be moved quickly to attract businesses and jobs, he said.
Lindberg knows the magnitude of the struggle ahead, though, for a better Route 22.
"Can you justify spending hundreds of millions of dollars when there are only 40,000 people in the county?" he asked.
U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-9th District, helped to write the federal Transportation Bill, MAP-21 (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century), which was recently signed by President Barack Obama. His father, Bud, who represented the same district for a generation, used earmarks to finance Interstate 99 through Bedford, Blair and Centre counties.
Bill Shuster said that obtaining funds for major rebuilding projects that could benefit central Pennsylvania has been made more difficult because the bill permits no more earmarks.
The key under the new system, he said, will be to get the state to support a project, which means any effort for a major upgrade of Route 22 must begin now so it can be included in the state's 12-year transportation improvement update in two years.
A new 12-year program was just released this month.
Shuster, who has been mentioned in various circles as the possible chairman of the powerful House Transportation Committee if the Republicans maintain their control, knows the score at the national level.
The federal government needs money for transportation, just like at the state and local levels, he said.
The challenge is to maintain what we have, to bring deteriorating roads and crumbling bridges back to par.
"If we take the position we can't afford new infrastructure, then it will diminish our economy in the world," he said.
The Hollidaysburg bypass
In the late 1960s and early '70s, PennDOT proposed a new four-lane limited access Route 22 through the Hollidaysburg area.
The road would have been much like the Route 22 that now provides access through Cambria County to the Duncansville area, and much like what finally became Interstate 99.
Route 22 like Route 220 (now I-99) was part of the Appalachian Highway Development Program. Millions of dollars were available for construction of a new road, but it was never built because PennDOT could not come up with a corridor for the new road that was acceptable to the public.
The primary corridor was to be through land that now includes Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School, Longer Elementary School and Hollidaysburg Junior High School.
A citizens group, Save Our Schools, was created, led by former Army Col. William Haller and Blair County businessman Warren Emeigh. Years of controversy and threatened legal action ensued.
By the mid-1970s, plans for a new road in the Hollidaysburg area fizzled and local officials redirected efforts to a new Route 220, or I-99.
It took 35 years to complete I-99 through Bedford, Blair and Centre counties, linking the area to the Pennsylvania Turnpike and I-80. It created a new development corridor and a plan for economic betterment that Pat Miller, deputy director of the Altoona-Blair County Development Corp., said has borne fruit.
Miller said the benefits of the new highway are "obvious."
One of them, he said, is Gardner Denver, which builds equipment for the natural gas drilling industry. Miller said the company, which opened this year in the I-99 Enterprise Campus in Tipton, "made an effort to locate here due to I-99."
In addition, Miller said he does not believe Logan Town Centre would have been constructed, had it not been for the I-99 interchanges at 17th Street and Frankstown Road.
Another benefit, he said, was the development of five business parks along the I-99 Corridor.
"With the completion of I-99 and Route 22 to Pittsburgh and the rest of the state highway system ... we are in pretty good shape," Miller said of the Altoona area.
He said, however, Blair County's development corporation is working with Huntingdon's HCBI on the effort to improve the Route 22 corridor through eastern Blair County and Huntingdon County to the Lewistown bypass.
Amy Sheaffer-Wise, HCBI executive director, said her organization favors major improvements along Route 22, noting that a consultant concluded better access is needed if the county's Riverview Business Park near Mount Union is to be expanded.
She noted how the I-99 corridor through Bedford and Blair counties became a significant factor for economic development there, and she believes Route 22 could do the same thing in Huntingdon County.
"Huntingdon has no access to a four-lane highway," Sheaffer-Wise said.
HCBI secured a $1 million grant through Shuster to perform a study of the corridor, with safety and access improvements the primary focus.
The results are to be released on Sept. 11 and will include recommendations for 13 projects, six in Huntingdon County and seven in Blair County, totaling approximately $20 million.
John C. Ciprich, a senior project manager for PennDOT District 9 in Hollidaysburg, said the projects cover a 40-mile range, from Duncansville in Blair County to the Huntingdon-Mifflin county line.
Among the major projects will be the Route 22-Penn Street intersection in Huntingdon, Ciprich said.
Adding capacity or widening the road to four lanes was not part of the study, Ciprich said.
Lindberg said an improved road could enhance economic development, such as what occurred with the recently opened Lewistown bypass.
He said the bypass and reconstruction of Route 22 through what is known as the Lewistown Narrows chopped 45 minutes off a trip to Harrisburg. In addition, he said, the business park in Lewistown "is booming."
Where we are
In 2010, under former Gov. Ed Rendell, a transportation funding study pointed to the funding crisis in transportation.
The state's General Assembly in 2007 passed Act 44, which was intended to provide more money for highway and bridge replacements. It included tolling I-80.
The federal government rejected the tolling effort, which slashed $472 million in annual income to PennDOT.
"This report identifies more than $3 billion annually in highway and transit needs that cannot be addressed. The gap between needs and revenues will continue to grow as inflation erodes the buying power of transportation dollars and improvements in fuel efficiency reduce the revenues being received," the 2010 report stated.
When Gov. Tom Corbett took office in 2011, he had the Transportation Funding Advisory Commission look at the funding problem.
That group, led by Secretary of Transportation Barry J. Schoch, concluded "the need for additional funding for transportation is more than $3.5 million annually, and grows each year."
In searching for new funds, Corbett said an increase in the 31.5-cent gasoline tax at the pump was off limits.
The commission instead recommended lifting the cap on the wholesale price of oil, known as the Oil Company Franchise Tax, which could provide a $1.3 billion boost annually for transportation, the commission projected.
Increasing vehicle and drivers' fees could also add another $574 million annually, the commission determined.
In all, the commission proposed ways to boost annual construction income by $2.7 billion.
At the federal level, Shuster said there is a proposal to lease federal land for off-shore drilling, with that income going toward transportation.
So far, nothing has occurred at either the state or federal levels.
State Rep. Rick Geist, who has represented Altoona for 32 years, chairs the state House Transportation Committee. He is in the last months in office, having lost the Republican primary election this year.
Geist called the present condition of the state's infrastructure "terrible.
"Right now we are playing Russian roulette with too many bridges," he said.
He said while there is an "unbelievable need" to relieve congestion on many of the state's roads, not one project is being done this year to relieve it.
Geist likes the idea of dropping the per-gallon tax on gas and drawing income instead from an uncapped wholesale price on oil.
He said the new federal transportation act "doesn't help Pennsylvania at all," noting the state's income for construction under the new act will drop from $2.5 billion to $2.1 billion annually.
"This [the transportation shortfall] has got to be an imperative for the governor and General Assembly," Geist said.
PennDOT press secretary Dennis Buterbaugh said the funding problem may be less daunting to fix if the economy was robust and growing, but solutions to the massive funding deficit are not as evident in the present economy.
The General Assembly this year passed a bill to allow Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), a proposal put forth by Geist.
This would involve the state working with private enterprise to repair or build certain sections of highway.
The picture painted by PennDOT and locally by Thomas A. Prestash, the chief executive of PennDOT District 9 in Hollidaysburg, is not a happy one.
The state maintains 40,000 miles of highway, of which PennDOT said 9,277 are in "poor condition."
Pennsylvania is responsible for about 25,000 bridges, said Buterbaugh, with 4,700 of them classified as "structurally deficient."
Prestash has responsibility for the state's roads and bridges in Blair, Cambria, Huntingdon, Somerset, Bedford and Fulton counties, which includes 1,000 miles of road and 2,800 bridges.
A year ago Prestash said the number of deficient bridges stood about about 350. That number now is down to 326, but with the emphasis on bridge rehabilitation, the number of roads in poor condition has jumped from about 500 to 591 miles.
Funding to District 9 for capital projects has decreased 39 percent in the past four years, which means about $58 million annually is available for construction throughout the six counties.
The continuing reduction in funding likely means that the gain in addressing deficient bridges will be lost and that number, Prestash predicted, will rise again.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.