Funding is a hurdle for crowded Interstate 81
Most public officials and users agree:
Interstate 81 is overcrowded and
underfunded. But in contrast to the gung-ho
early days of the interstate highway system,
public and political commitment to a
billion-dollar expansion in multiple states
has yet to coalesce.
More than a decade ago, state officials began kicking around the idea of widening the I-81 corridor in southcentral Pennsylvania, due to the growing volume of vehicles — most notably trucks — using the major north-south transportation artery to travel the eastern seaboard. The corridor is within two days’ delivery time of about half of all U.S. markets.
Following years of lobbying from elected officials, the state Department of Transportation committed in 2001 to a two-year study to start the process of widening the highway to six lanes on a 77-mile stretch, beginning at the Maryland state line to Route 581 in Cumberland County and from I-83 in Dauphin County to the I-78 split in Lebanon County. Widening talks were also going on in neighboring I-81 states, including Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.
The $2 million study done by DMJM Harris wrapped up in 2004.
The price tag to widen the corridor was estimated at $1 billion — a figure deemed too high by state officials, despite daily truck traffic between 28 and 39 percent on an interstate system designed to handle an average of 15 percent trucks.
A June report by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials updated the estimate to $1.8 billion.
PennDOT District 8 spokesman Greg Penny said in 2004 that it was “very unlikely” the agency could appropriate funding to widen the entire corridor. Nearly seven years later, funding continues to be a major hurdle for the state.
“HATS can’t find the money,” Penny said recently, referring to the Harrisburg Area Transportation Study, the regional planning organization for Cumberland, Dauphin and Perry counties that approves and programs every public transportation project for federal, state and local funding. With heavy development pressure from warehouse and distribution centers along the corridor, the I-81 widening study pegged 2002 traffic volumes between 40,000 and 80,000 vehicles per day in both directions.
The average daily traffic count was 43,700, with trucks making up about 35 percent of that volume, the study noted, not including the six-lane section between Exit 59, where I-81 meets Route 581, and Exit 70, where I-81 meets I-83. A 2030 projection in that study shows average annual daily traffic volumes ranging between 100,000 and 150,000 vehicles.
“We could be the bottleneck,” said Kirk Stoner, planning director for Cumberland County. “Who knows? The estimates are computer projections.”
Other I-81 states, including Maryland and West Virginia, also have been studying ways to improve the highway in their respective states.
In response to public input and a request early in 2006 from the General Assembly, the Commonwealth Transportation Board in October 2006 directed the Virginia Department of Transportation to “implement safety and operational improvements to existing I-81” and “improve I-81 by constructing not more than one or two general purpose lanes in each direction, only where needed, to meet future traffic demand.”
“Currently, there is no funding or plans to widen the entire I-81 corridor in Virginia,” Heidi Underwood, a VDOT spokeswoman, said this fall. “However, safety and operational improvements are under way, such as the construction of truck climbing lanes in Montgomery and Rockbridge counties.
About 10 years ago, VDOT’s six-year improvement plan did include funds to begin design work on widening sections of I-81, specifically 16 miles in the Roanoke Valley, a truck-climbing lane in Rockbridge County and sections in the Winchester and Harrisonburg areas, she noted.
“These design projects had been identified as priorities by the CTB based on the I-81 feasibility study completed by VDOT in the late 1990s,” she said. “Design was funded and got under way, but it was suspended when VDOT began a corridor-improvement study in 2004.”
In Maryland, there is a project in the planning phase to reconstruct I-81, which spans just 12.08 miles in the state.
About 76,000 vehicles — 35 percent of those trucks — travel I-81 in Maryland every day, according to Charlie Gischlar, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration, which maintains I-81. Projections through 2030 have traffic increasing to 100,000 vehicles per day, he added.
The project is estimated to cost $743 million. Planning has been completed, Gischlar noted, but there is no funding for design.
“It is a ton of money that right now is going to be very difficult to achieve,” he said. “With the financial climate, this wouldn’t be funded next year. That doesn’t mean one day we might not break off a section. We may do it as breakout projects, if it does move forward.”
U.S. Rep. Todd Platts, R-19, expects something similar could happen in Pennsylvania, if a widening project ever tops the list of priorities again for the state.
“That project will eat up all of the highway funds for years to come for the entire region,” he said. “We’re going to have to do it in a staged approach, and that’s still going to be dramatic in the cost.”
For the I-81 widening project to work in Pennsylvania, it needs to be prioritized at the state level, Platts said, as opposed to the local Metropolitan Planning Organization.
“It’s a project that would spike the MPO budget so dramatically. It’s not financially doable for the local MPO,” he said. If all local and county officials push for the project and it becomes a state priority, Platts said, he would advocate for federal funding.
The funding crisis we’re in is “very real,” Stoner said. “We know what the needs are. The funding is just not there.”
A recent state study estimated it would take about $3.5 billion annually to fully fund the state’s transportation needs. In August, the Rendell administration proposed $1 billion annually in new funding — by taxing oil company gross profits and increasing motorist fees — to address the crisis. About 70 percent of the new money would go to highways and bridges, while the rest would be for mass transit, Transportation Secretary Allen Biehler said.
The administration pegged the number of structurally deficient, state-owned bridges at 5,646, the most in the country. At the time, there were also more than 7,000 miles of roadway in poor condition.
A transportation funding study put out by the Pennsylvania State Transportation Advisory Committee in May said that new sources of revenue need to be identified, and existing sources need to be re-examined to provide funding that “meets the enormous investment need.”
State and local officials agree. In the report, several recommendations were made, including a more direct user-pay system such as a vehicle-miles-traveled fee. VMT fees are flexible and also allow for peak-hour pricing and dedicated lanes in highly congested areas.
Tolling options on major highways was another recommendation, along with the expansion of public-private partnerships, strategic borrowing and local option taxes.
“We need to probably keep fuel taxes, but move into some other funding source,” Stoner said.
There seems to be no question in the mind of current and past officials, including retired 9th District Congressman Bud Shuster, that the interstate system has been vital to the continued development of the region.
“The evidence is overwhelming that where you put an interstate system several things happen,” said Shuster, who chaired the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure from 1995 to 2001. It bolsters the transportation network for the traveling public and helps with safety, he said.
The interstate system is also a “magnet for business development,” Shuster said.
Shuster said local and regional leaders have to make improvement projects such as widening I-81 to six lanes a priority.
Causer Appointed to House Appropriations Committee
Rep. Martin Causer (R-Turtlepoint) today was appointed to the state House Appropriations Committee, giving the fifth-term lawmaker greater standing in the development of the annual state budget.
“My number one priority this year is for the state House to adopt an on-time, fiscally responsible state budget, and I believe my appointment to the Appropriations Committee will help us reach that goal,” Causer said. “Many of the people I represent have told me enough is enough when it comes to government spending, and I could not agree more. I will make sure their voices are heard loud and clear in this year’s budget negotiations.”
As a member of the committee, Causer will participate in a series of in-depth hearings with officials from every major state agency and department to determine their budgetary needs. He also will play a role in monitoring ongoing expenditures to ensure departments are operating within the confines of the enacted state budget. Additionally, the Appropriations Committee is responsible for reviewing all legislation to analyze the fiscal impact it may have on the Commonwealth.
“This year’s budget is sure to be a challenge with an estimated revenue shortfall of at least $4 billion,” Causer said. “We have a lot of work to do to make up for the overspending of the Rendell administration.”
In addition to his new role on the Appropriations Committee, Causer will also serve on the Health Committee for the first time in his tenure with the state House.
“I am very happy to have the opportunity to serve on this committee and advocate for our rural hospitals and health care system,” Causer said. “It is vital for our citizens to have access to affordable, quality health care without having to travel to Pittsburgh, Erie or New York to get it.”
Causer also will continue his service on the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, and the Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.
His goals as a member of the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee include expanding the state’s alternative energy opportunities as well as facilitating the ongoing development of the Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling industry. Causer said he wants to ensure the region benefits from the economic opportunities presented by the Marcellus, but he also recognizes the importance of protecting the state’s water supply.
The lawmaker is a long-time member of the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, to which he brings his past experience as an EMS volunteer. His goals on that committee are to continue providing veterans with the support services they need and deserve, and to ensure the public safety of the Commonwealth’s citizens.
This session, Causer also will continue his service as chairman of the Legislative Timber Caucus and vice chairman of the Firefighter and Emergency Services Caucus.
PA Woman Pleads Guilty In FBI Agent Shooting
PITTSBURGH—A Pittsburgh-area woman who shot a federal agent to death during an early morning raid on her home pleaded guilty Tuesday but said federal agents share the blame for the deadly confrontation.
Christina Korbe, 42, was sentenced to 15 years and 10 months in prison in the 2008 shooting death of Special Agent Samuel Hicks after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter and weapons charges.
She apologized to Hicks' wife and family but affixed some of the blame for his death on law enforcement agencies that descended on her home to arrest her husband on drug charges.
"The element of surprise is not worth someone's life," Korbe said.
Korbe repeatedly claimed she fired at Hicks only because she believed the officers who raided her Indiana Township home on Nov. 19, 2008, were unknown intruders. Hicks, 33, of Richland Township, was killed by one shot that struck him just above his bulletproof vest. He left behind a wife and toddler son.
Prosecutors insisted that Hicks and other law officers loudly and clearly identified themselves before using a battering ram to bust through the Korbes' door.
Charlotte Carrabotta, the slain agent's mother, disputed Korbe's claim that she fired to protect her family, including her two children.
"Christina Korbe was not protecting her children," Carrabotta said. "Samuel was protecting her children."
Investigators had also pointed toward the actions taken by Korbe's husband during the raid as proof that agents had clearly identified themselves. The morning Hicks died, Robert Korbe immediately ran downstairs to dispose of cocaine and took other evasive actions that prosecutors contend prove he knew Hicks and the others were law enforcement officers.
Despite the government's arguments that Korbe purposely targeted Hicks, the plea leaves open the possibility that she fired the gun intentionally but didn't necessarily know what was going on. A component of voluntary manslaughter is an emotional state fueled by anger, fear, terror or rage.
Robert Korbe pleaded guilty last year to the cocaine trafficking charges that brought Hicks and the other officers to his home that morning. He is serving 25 years in prison -- nine more than his wife faces.
Pennsylvania Game Commission Prepares For Special Snow Goose Season
HARRISBURG, PA -- Pennsylvania
Game Commission officials are set to offer
hunters the opportunity to participate in a
snow goose conservation hunt designed to
help stem the growth of continental snow
goose populations. Hunters must obtain
a free snow goose conservation hunt permit
and report cards from the agency to
participate in the season, which will be
held from Feb. 21 through April 16.
The daily limit is 25, with no possession
To do so, hunters can access the "Snow Goose Conservation Hunt" page by clicking on the appropriate icon in the center of the agency's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us) and then following the instructions. By completing the application online, hunters will be able to print off the permit and report cards and will not have to wait for the package to be mailed.
For those individuals with no online access, permits and the required report cards can be obtained by calling the Game Commission at the Harrisburg headquarters (717-787-4250) and asking for the Bureau of Wildlife Management. However, this process will require mailing the permit and report cards to the applicant, so allow a minimum of one week for processing and mail delivery to obtain a permit.
"Snow goose populations have reached levels that are causing extensive and possibly irreversible damage to their, as well as other nesting birds', arctic and sub-arctic breeding grounds," pointed out Kevin Jacobs, Game Commission waterfowl biologist. "For some populations of snow geese their nesting habitats can no longer support these large numbers. What's more, these geese are beginning to impact fragile coastal marsh habitats and crops in Mid-Atlantic States and Quebec.
"It's likely that North America has never had as many snow geese as it does now. The current population of greater snow geese that inhabits the Atlantic Flyway is estimated at more than one million birds, more than double the management goal of 500,000. They have become a huge and unexpected problem for themselves and other wildlife that shares the wintering and breeding grounds these waterfowl occupy."
The quickest and probably most effective way for wildlife managers to respond to the problem is to allow additional hunting days – and new hunting methods – to reduce and stabilize snow goose populations. Therefore, as part of this Snow Goose Conservation Hunt, electronic calls are legal, and legal shooting hours are from one-half hour before sunrise until one-half hour after sunset. Currently, all waterfowl shooting hours close at sundown, except for the September Canada goose season, and electronic calls are not legal for other waterfowl seasons.
"Currently, the regular snow goose season opened on Nov. 6 and runs through Feb. 19, with a daily limit of 25 birds," Jacobs said. "The additional hunting days offered after Feb. 20 will provide hunters additional opportunity to harvest snow geese."
Participating states are required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor and assess hunting activity and harvest. That is why the Game Commission has created the free Snow Goose Conservation Hunt Permit.
"Along with this new permit, hunters must possess a general hunting license, migratory game bird license and a federal duck stamp (for those 16 or older)," Jacobs said. "The permit holder will be required to maintain records specifying hunting activity and daily harvest. All permit holders must submit a report, even if they did not hunt or harvest any birds, to the Game Commission no later than May 17. Failure to report by May 17 may result in loss of eligibility to participate in next year's snow goose conservation hunt."
CCMH's Laboratory And Pathology Services Earn Re-accreditation By The C.A.P.
Charles Cole Memorial
Hospital’s laboratory and pathology services
recently earned re-accredited by the College
of American Pathologists.
According to CAP, accreditation “improves patient safety by advancing the quality of pathology and laboratory services through education, standard setting, and ensuring laboratories meet or exceed regulatory requirements. Upon successful completion of the inspection process, the laboratory is awarded CAP accreditation and becomes part of an exclusive group of more than 6,000 laboratories worldwide that have met the highest standards of excellence.”
“This accreditation demonstrates our high standards and commitment by providing the best services to our patients,” said laboratory director George Locke. “I’m grateful to our dedicated staff for helping to reach this important achievement.”
The College of American Pathologists is a medical society that serves more than 17,000 physician members and the laboratory community throughout the world. It is the world's largest association composed exclusively of pathologists and is widely recognized as the leader in laboratory quality assurance. The CAP is an advocate for high quality and cost-effective patient care. More information about Cap can be found at www.cap.org.