SELINSGROVE — Environmental approvals must be granted before the PennDOT moves forwarded with its $131 million recommended eastern alternative to steer the Central Susquehanna Valley Transportation (CSVT) project around two fly-ash basins situated along the initially proposed southern path of the highway.
During a public meeting attended by more than 300 people Wednesday evening at the Selinsgrove Area Middle School, representatives from PennDOT and Gannett Fleming explained the reasons behind selecting the eastern alternative from the three options proposed to avoid the fly-ash basins.
The CSVT was announced as a $670 million project to construct a 13-mile highway through portions of Northumberland, Union and Snyder counties.
Matt Beck, PennDOT assistant plans engineer, said following Wednesday’s meeting that the eastern alternative comes with a $131 million price tag. He said that was the mid-price of the three options, which ranged from $118 million to $139 million.
Beck said PennDOT has not yet calculated how the $131 million price would impact the project’s overall budget. However, he said it would have cost “tens of millions of dollars” more to construct the CSVT over the fly-ash basins.
PennDOT announced in January that the southern section of the highway would have to undergo a redesign due to the basins. They were the result of a by-product produced by the PPL plant which once operated in Shamokin Dam and would not have been able to properly support the weight of the highway.
Dave Hamlet, a project manager with Gannett Fleming, a consultant on the project, spoke at a public meeting in May on the issue, and again during Wednesday’s meeting.
As presented in May, the eastern alternative would cross Stetler Avenue and 11th Street, and travel along the front of the northern-most ash basin. A western alternative and central alternative were also considered. The western alternative would have taken the highway to the west of the two basins, while the central alternative would have resulted in the highway being constructed between the two.
Hamlet said the western alternative received a mix of positive and negative feedback from the community following the May meeting. Positives identified by Hamlet included less environmental impact; less noise impact to developments; no impact on a newgas line; and the highway would have been situated farther away from more densely populated areas.
The negatives included an impact on property values; the potential displacement of 12 families whose homes would fall in the path of the CSVT; an impact on farmland; and the need to construct a one-mile connector to Route 61.
The central alternative, Hamlet said, received multiple negative comments about its potential impacts. Those comments included the potential displacement of 14 families; an impact on active farmland; and impact on PPL transmission lines.
Hamlet said the eastern alternative received mixed reviews from those who attended the May meeting.
Positive comments included the alternative affecting the fewest number of families that would have to be displaced to accommodate the highway. It would also have the smallest impact on active farmland. For the negative comments, Hamlet said the eastern alternative would cause 3,500 feet of a new gas line to be relocated, and 3,230 feet of a PPL transmission line to be relocated.
Hamlet said the eastern alternative must receive environmental clearances from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) before it can move forward.
Beck said the next stage of the process will be for the project’s design team to prepare an environmental assessment, which will be open for a 30-day public review sometime in the spring.
In late spring, he said a public hearing on the assessment will be held. PennDOT will consider and respond to comments made during the hearing before requesting environmental clearances from FHWA.
Beck said it’s too early to estimate a construction timetable for the southern section of the CSVT as design work must still take place.
He said work on the northern section of the CSVT is progressing in a timely manner and should be completed by 2022. That section will connect Route 147 south of Montandon with Route 15 south of Winfield.
Beck said 50 percent of the earthwork and bridges are complete on the northern section, and he expects paving to start in 2019. The bridge spanning the Susquehanna River should be finished by 2020.
He said the northern section is expected to open to traffic prior to completion of work on the southern section.
For more information on the CSVT, visit csvt.com.