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Acid rock, bats cause for concern for Route 322 expansion

Reported By: Gary Sinderson
Written By: Marc Stempka

POTTER TOWNSHIP, Pa. -- Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials have said the Route 322 expansion project in eastern Centre County is a top priority but despite the first phase of construction already getting underway, environmental concerns may cause detours with the project timeline.

The goal is to have a continuous four-lane highway between State College and Harrisburg and currently a stretch through the Seven Mountains region, between Boalsburg and the Mifflin County line, is still a two-lane, often times congested, thoroughfare, especially on Penn State football game days.

Work on the project will be done in two phases, but PennDOT officials said Thursday they are looking at bringing on experts from Penn State University to address problems that could pop up with this project, including a big issue that affected the Interstate 99 expansion in the western side of the county a decade ago.

PennDOT District 2 Executive Kevin Kline said they do have pyrite, which becomes acid rock when exposed from underground, on their radar with the Route 322 expansion. It's the same rock that created years of delays in the I-99 project at Skytop Mountain.

"We've completed a lot of our core borings to date in the Potters Mills area and right now it's not showing any acid-bearing soils, [and] we're going to reconfirm that," Kline said. "We're also going to look at trying to bring Penn State back on as a consulting firm to take a look at that."

Kline said any kind of contract involving Penn State's participation in the project is still being worked out, but PennDOT would like to have another set of eyes on the project.

In addition to the rock, the Indiana bat is also a concern, as the mountain range through the Potters Mills area is one of its habitats. The bat is a protected species and PennDOT is working with national groups to determine the bats potential impact.

"We've been working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, [as] the Indiana bat habitat naturally ranges through the mountain side of Pennsylvania," Kline said. "There is [habitat activity] in the area, so we are coordinating our efforts with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to address those concerns."

Despite the project being announced, there are still some decisions to be made about the path of the roadway, officials said. The final route is still being determined, including just widening the existing roadway.

Even with the potential environmental roadblocks, PennDOT said a groundbreaking for that stretch is at about five years away. A public review for the environmental report on the Seven Mountains phase of the project will be May 7 and Centre Hall Elementary School.

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Edgar Snyder

Washington Times