Is Interstate 81 a joy to drive? Or do you avoid it like the plague? Or is the major north-south highway just a necessary way to get from one place to another?
Area transportation officials want your opinion.
Provide feedback on the safety, congestion, condition and access needs along I-81 in South Central Pennsylvania through an online survey.
“The I-81 Improvement Strategy is a no-borders evaluation of 100 miles of I-81 from the Maryland state line through Lebanon County that will identify the needs on the interstate and on connecting roads and infrastructure affected by I-81,” said Steve Deck, Tri-County Regional Planning Commission (TCRPC) Executive Director.
Information gathered from other sources will be added to the survey results to develop a plan to improve I81 when money is available.
Developing a Playbook of Priorities
The strategy will serve as a playbook for setting priorities and funding future projects.
Three Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO) in the corridor will drive the planning process. They include Franklin County, TCRPC/Harrisburg Area Transportation Study and Lebanon County.
TCRPC includes Cumberland, Dauphin and Perry Counties. It is spearheading the effort in coordination with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration.
The first step is developing a list of specific needs, grouped into sections and presented to stakeholders and the public. That should happen by summer.
By this time next year phase 2 of the project should be ready.
The Strategy will address needs along the I-81 corridor identified through technical analysis, partnerships and collaboration.
Stakeholders in the Project
Stakeholders include residents, municipal officials, business owners, emergency service providers, transportation and trucking organizations, tourism groups and area Chambers of Commerce.
“Partnering in this process to identify the safety, congestion, condition and access needs on I-81 is a tremendous opportunity for our region,” said Jon Fitzkee, Assistant Director of the Lebanon County Planning Department. “We are the second-fastest growing county in the state and access to I-81 is key to our continued growth.”
Planners and county officials eagerly await the results, he said. Steve Thomas, Franklin County’s Planning Director, agrees.
“We have newly developing freight-generating sites here in Franklin County and across the state line in Maryland that will add even more traffic and commerce to I-81,” he said. “The time is right to start building this playbook now.”
The Improvement Strategy will also tackle other concerns specific to Franklin County. Those include planning for a new Exit 12, and addressing traffic that the intermodal facilities recently constructed by railroad giants CSX and Norfolk Southern are introducing to the corridor.
other issues include railroad-related traffic in the greater Harrisburg region and truck traffic generated by major new warehouse and distribution centers.
“We know we don’t have to wait until 2040 or 2050 for problems on I-81 to emerge,” said Deck.
He said identifying improvements needed to maintain the roadway is an urgent need. The idea is to be ready when funding is available so I81 continues to be an asset to the area’s economy.
Public engagement is at the core of the planning process. The I-81 Team will offer opportunities for the public to weigh in every step of the way. Go to the website to learn more about the project, provide feedback through the online survey and join the email list.