Whatever economic developments result along the northern section of the Central Susquehanna Valley Transportation Project, the planning leaders for Northumberland and Union counties don’t expect immediate, large-scale changes.
A new impact study on the Thruway projects traffic in the Milton area to grow by as much as 50%. Justin Skavery, planning coordinator, Northumberland County, said the Milton area will benefit the most locally from any potential development.
He noted that the borough is already working on refining its traffic ordinances, and said sewer lines in Lewis Township and Watsontown are being extended in anticipation of commercial development.
“I don’t plan to see much for another five to 10 years. Ten years is where you’ll see the ball rolling, probably,” Skavery said.
The CSVT passes through a small portion of Union County before crossing over the river. Sean McLaughlin, planning and economic development director, Union County, said the topography and lack of public utilities don’t bode well for development at the Route 15 interchange.
“The Union Township interchange is a little problematic for that,” McLaughlin said of development projects. “I don’t see a whole lot of direct impact for Union County on this.”
The Central Susquehanna Valley Transportation Project, or CSVT, is estimated to cost $865 million for the entire 12.4-mile bypass from Selinsgrove to a connection with Route 147 south of Montandon. That price has ballooned over and over — $300 million in 2001, $540 million in 2010, $670 million in 2015. The length of the project, decades in the making, has swelled, too, with the southern section now estimated for completion in 2027.
The northern section, though, is nearing completion. It features a 4,500-foot, $156 million bridge spanning the Susquehanna River between Winfield in Union County and Point Township in Northumberland County. PennDOT said the bridge and related roads are expected to open in 2022.
Steve Patton of Patton Logistics Group said that by using the bridge alone, his subsidiary company Watsontown Trucking could save between $5,000 and $7,000 weekly on mileage and labor for drivers.
“It puts us on a much safer road and out of the town of Northumberland. There’s really no downside for the trucking company once the northern section is complete,” Patton said.
Company savings will only increase once the entire CSVT opens, he said.
Patton Logistics Group is an integration of Watsontown Trucking, Patton Warehousing and Patton Logistics. Altogether, it employs 700 workers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and Ohio.
Economic development along CSVT might bring new warehouses, and jobs, but Patton doesn’t expect a “dramatic increase.” Both Patton and McLaughlin said the corridors of Interstate 81 and Interstate 78 are more desirable even if, as Patton explained, it would be substantially cheaper to build or buy a warehouse in the Valley compared to places like Hazleton where companies like Amazon and Hershey have already invested.
A buildup of service sector businesses within the Route 147 corridor is more likely, Patton said, since GPS apps will be rerouting traffic from Route 15 to CSVT. He expects it could come at some detriment to existing businesses along Routes 11 and 15 in the Selinsgrove and Lewisburg areas since traffic is projected to dip.
“I see a huge boom in restaurants, hotels, fueling stations,” Patton said. “Milton, I believe, stands to be one of the areas that benefits.”
The Williamsport and SEDA-COG Metropolitan Planning Organizations collaborated with PennDOT to produce a draft impact study and a corresponding interactive map showing proposed developments, utility upgrades, traffic operation improvements and more. It’s available at www.lyco.org/CSVT.
In a meeting addressing the study, Todd Trautz, senior associate and traffic division manager, Michael Baker International, said that while traffic on Routes 11-15 could be cut by nearly half the current volume, much of the redirected travel is pass-through traffic.
Trautz estimated that just shy of 40,000 vehicles travel the highway daily in the Hummels Wharf/Shamokin Dam areas, specifically. As much as 45% of that traffic is projected to travel the CSVT when it’s completed. That leaves up to an estimated 20,000 motorists still traveling the strip.
“It’s still going to be a busy commercial strip. It’s going to be different but it’s not like it’s going to be a ghost town,” Trautz said during the meeting.
James Saylor, transportation program planning director, SEDA-COG, said that he expects broader developments to include warehousing and manufacturing along with service sector projects.
“One of the things that surprised me when I first saw the draft study was that the project development team identified a need for truck and travel stops in the area,” Saylor said.
Growth along the CSVT could lead to residential developments and population shifts to specific areas within a short drive of the highway, the study map shows.
“Bringing traffic through the region will improve the prospects for all types of development,” Saylor said.