The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

November 24, 2013

Long road ahead

By Gary Grossman
The Daily Item

— A few years ago, I was packed in a van with other chamber of commerce-ites to lobby Harrisburg for early education support when I committed the inexcusable faux pas of wondering aloud why, after 30 years, people believed we still needed the Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway or CSVT.

If we hadn’t missed it for three decades, during which there had been major advances in commerce, transportation and technology, not to mention sea change shifts in demographics and regional vitality, was it really the solution it once might have been?

Egads! Wrong question. Wrong audience.

It seems that a mere whiff of uncertainty on that topic was enough to brand you a heretic.

Since then, I have written and signed letters begging administrators, bureaucrats and persons of Congress to allow regional planning credits to shift from one jurisdiction to another, even though I had no glimmer of an idea why that was essential.

I have interrogated candidates for office about the strength of their allegiance to the CSVT, then harrumphed in editorials when it seemed insufficient.

I have heaped praise upon the unflagging and dogged determination that contributed to legislation last week promising $550 million for a road and bridge that will circumvent Routes 11/15 along Selinsgrove, Hummels Wharf and Shamokin Dam.

Studies have shown, they tell me, that the advent of the CSVT poses no threat to healthy commerce along that busy strip.

Rather, they say, studies have shown that improving the flow of traffic along a congested commercial highway actually improves sales because drivers now feel they can safely exit the roadway, shop or dine or gas up and then return to their travels.

But, I have memories — haunting memories — of middling Worcester and tiny Schenevus.

Worcester and Schenevus were two (and here I exaggerate for effect) charming, small communities along Route 7 in New York, which ran from the Chenango Valley northeast along Schenevus Creek to the Capital district around Albany — Binghamton to Rotterdam and back.

Then in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Warren M. Anderson, a legislator who became speaker of the assembly, secured money for a stretch of Interstate 88, connecting Binghamton —Mr. Anderson’s home base — to Albany — Mr. Anderson’s office.

In truth, during the early and mid-1980s, you could zip along all 117.75 miles the four-lane, gently rolling, median-separated, engineering extravaganza discovering very few people to wave to, collide with or come to your rescue should that be necessary.

I-88 became known jokingly as the “Warren M. Anderson Driveway” and later, formally “Warren M. Anderson Expressway.”

I offer these facts because the traveling public is highly unlikely to otherwise encounter I-88. The road was that unnecessary. Even today, New York traffic data shows that I-88 lopes along struggling to reach an AADT (annual average daily traveler) measure of 10,000.

Limited as it was, that traffic shift from old Route 7 to I-88 was sufficient to do-in Worcester and Schenevus, which became once-was towns off the now rarely traversed Exit 18. The newly-realized free flow of traffic along old Route 7 did nothing for the diners, barbershops and gas stations.

It is, of course, unwise to analogize one road to another. The 11/15 strip in question here, for example, clocks an AADT of 40,000. Maybe commerce will thrive post-CSVT.

Therefore, hopes still ride high for unseen opportunities yet to be unleashed by the Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway, which took its grandest step toward the nonfiction section Thursday night when Gov. Tom Corbett’s transportation plan cleared Pennsylvania’s legislature.

One caution spotlighted by reporting this week noted that the money for the CSVT is still “included” in the transportation plan, which is all one can hope at this point. “Included” is not “assured.”

That means it is still wise to keep explaining in compelling terms, all the great reasons why the bypass is “needed” so that no one from more populated regions of the state comes along with allegations of greater need and snatches that $550 million from complacent and slackened jaws of victory.

Gary Grossman is the publisher of The Daily Item and The Danville News.