By Ashley Wislock
The Daily Item
KREAMER — The Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway is expected to be completed by 2024 — that is, if Harrisburg can keep its hands off the money that would fund the $615 million project.
“There’s an election in 2014,” Shamokin Dam Mayor Joe McGranahan said Thursday. “Nothing attracts more attention than a pile of unused money. ... Right now, we’re concerned with getting the project going so that it gets advanced to the point that it can’t be stopped.”
McGranahan was joined by Matt Beck, assistant district plans engineer for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s District 3, state Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver, R-108 of Sunbury, and Jamie Mercaldo, employer service representative at CareerLink in Sunbury, during a Leadership Susquehanna Valley panel session to discuss the thruway project and its economic impact on the region as well as the rest of the state’s new comprehensive transportation plan.
The workshop, sponsored by the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce, was held at Wood-Mode headquarters in Kreamer.
The thruway is expected to create 1,500 to 2,000 jobs a year during its tenure. The first construction contract is expected to be put out for bids in August 2015, Beck said.
However, there may not be enough skilled laborers to meet the high demand created by the project, Mercaldo said.
“That’s a little scary to me,” she said.
But PennDOT is taking that into account by trying to phase the different stages of the project in, allowing local laborers and companies to meet the demand, Beck said. Mercaldo said CareerLink also is working with area schools to make sure potential workers are trained to meet the demand.
In addition to the jobs related to the project’s completion, the thruway would bring more jobs in the form of economic development, Mercaldo said. With companies not having to worry about their vehicles sitting in traffic along the Routes 11-15 strip, they would be more likely to come into the area.
“The longer trucks are sitting in traffic idling, that’s costing them money,” she said.
The transportation plan also provides funding for repairing many of Pennsylvania’s roads and bridges, Culver said. The state has more than 41,000 miles of state highways, which also help transport goods from companies in various parts of the state.
“We are called the Keystone State for a very good reason,” she said.
Part of the funding comes from increasing the state’s gas tax, which will cost drivers an average of $2.50 a week, Culver said. It basically amounts to a “user fee,” she said.
“It’s the fairest way to do this,” she said.
The thruway also would help ease congestion on the strip for locals, who some businesses believe are deterred from using the strip area due to heavy truck traffic, McGranahan said.
By 2030, strip traffic without the bypass is expected to be at 90,000 vehicles per day, with the bypass expected to carry 40,000 vehicles, Beck said.
McGranahan said the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce transportation committee and other groups are looking to get the strip designated “Business Routes 11-15” to encourage motorists to stop and patronize gas stations, restaurants, stores and other enterprises.
“We don’t want to lose the strip area,” he said.
And if the money for the thruway falls through, McGranahan said the region will not give up in its 45-year quest to see the project completed.
“We’re in this for the long haul,” he said.