After 10 years and more than $230 million in construction, detours and orange barrels, a white ribbon of concrete highway now carves its way through the northern hills of Pennsylvania on its way to the Southern Tier.
The final stretch of new roadway, northbound on Route 15 from Lawrenceville, Pa., to Presho, is now open, completing an 80-mile segment of interstate-grade, four-lane divided highway from Interstate 180 in Williamsport, Pa., to Interstate 86 in Corning. Eventually, the stretch will become part of Interstate 99, which will go from Corning to Cumberland, Md., passing through State College, Pa.
Against a backdrop of highway stretching into the distance, area lawmakers and officials praised the project, which was completed ahead of schedule and under budget. It was originally projected to cost $238 million and be completed in November. The final cost was $235 million.
The cost of the final 5-mile segment through Lindley, which included six bridges, was $31.1 million.
NYSDOT Acting Regional Director Brian Kelly said he wanted first and foremost to thank the residents of communities such as Lindley that have put up with the inconveniences of years of heavy construction and heavy traffic. He said the key benefits of the new highway were safety and economic development. State Sen. Tom O'Mara, R-Big Flats, echoed that. "Once completed, I-99 will be a better, safer, less congested and more efficient roadway for those who travel it every day," he said. "It will represent a vital economic corridor between New York and Pennsylvania."
DOT spokesman Beau Duffy said there's still a few details to be completed before the state can apply for federal interstate status.
One of those is the County Route 5 overpass at the Presho interchange. The overpass has to be lifted in order to meet the minimum height standards for an interstate. It's expected to be complete by the end of October. There are also a few more minor improvements to be done along the route, meaning the DOT probably won't seek the I-99 designation until 2014. At that point, federal inspectors will examine the road before making a decision, Duffy said.
In a statement, Gov. Andrew Cuomo stressed the interstate and international trade value of the north-south highway, which eases travel and transportation of goods through the Northeast and into Canada. "This newly built highway and future interstate are going to stimulate economic activity in the Southern Tier, bringing jobs and providing a shipping lifeline for trade between New York state, surrounding states and Canada," he said.
The nearest other north-south highways are I-79 near Erie, Pa., and I-81 through Binghamton.
U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, who was in Washington, issued a statement praising the project and focusing on the value to taxpayers. "Completion of this final phase means New Yorkers will have a safer, more efficient expressway between New York and Pennsylvania, a critical lifeline for our Southern Tier and Finger Lakes economy," he said. "Taxpayers will see a direct return from their investment in the form of jobs and economic opportunity."
Page 2 of 2 - State Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, R-Corning, took a moment to acknowledge the lives lost over the years in fatal crashes on the old two-lane road, noting the greatly increased safety of the new divided highway. "I also appreciate the local leaders and residents who have worked so long and so hard to see this project through to the end," he said.