PENN TOWNSHIP, Westmoreland County — State Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, on Thursday joined leaders from the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and local officials to announce that a planned, $30-million interchange to link the Turnpike and State Route 130 in Penn Township can be advanced now that the PTC has largely been released from a 2007 state mandate to provide $450 million annually to PennDOT to help fund Commonwealth transit operations.
“This interchange is a priority project for me as it is critical to the community I serve and the overall economic success of our region,” said Ward. “The project started when I was Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, and I am thrilled that the PA Turnpike recognizes its importance and is here to continue moving it forward. This new connection has long been advocated because of the benefits of improved safety and mobility for passenger and commercial traffic in the corridor. I am excited to take this step forward today in making this project a reality.”
The State Route 130 Interchange and similar PA Turnpike improvement projects are now feasible because the PTC made its final $450 million payment to PennDOT this past July.
Compton added that, besides several new interchange projects, the commission can get back on track with its investment to rebuild and widen sections of its roadway — some of which are more than 81 years old.
The new Route 130 Interchange — a project that has won the backing of state, county, and local officials — will provide those residing in Pittsburgh’s eastern suburbs better access to neighboring counties and employment centers and encourage economic development in Westmoreland County.
Heigel explained that building new Turnpike interchanges is only feasible in an ORT environment due to significantly lower costs to construct tolling points above travel lanes compared to interchanges.
“Last year’s All-Electronic Tolling conversion gives us the ability to scan E-ZPass transponders and capture license-plate images at highway speeds,” Heigel said. “Now, we can collect tolls on the mainline between interchanges, and build interchanges with a smaller footprint and lower costs of the traditional design required to funnel on and off traffic through a toll plaza.”
Heigel said the cost savings to the PTC is significant — in the tens of millions of dollars compared to the old way of building interchanges.
Officials from Penn Township and nearby communities have consistently backed the construction of a new Turnpike interchange at this location, with support reaching a crescendo in the last few years.
The PTC’s obligation to provide the Commonwealth with supplemental transportation funding was a result of PA Act 44 of 2007. Under Act 89 of 2013, the PTC’s payment to the Commonwealth drops from $450 million annually to $50 million at the end of the current fiscal year; at that time, $450 million for transit will come from the state’s General Fund. Lawmakers will have to address this shift in the next state budget.