It's official: I-376 corridor christened
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What's in a name? In the case of the newly renumbered Interstate 376, 15 years and nearly $40 million.
The process of rechristening about 70 miles of highway from the Fort Pitt Bridge in Pittsburgh to Interstate 80 in Mercer County formally ended yesterday, when officials removed a ceremonial red cloak from an I-376 sign near the Hopewell interchange in Beaver County.
There's still work to be done -- including interchange improvements in Lawrence and Mercer counties and new signs throughout the corridor that will take another year to uncover or erect.
The renamed highway joins the Parkway East as I-376. It now stretches 85 miles from the Pennsylvania Turnpike to I-80. Parts of the highway formerly were designated I-279, U.S. 22 and 30 and state Route 60.
"We're glad to be back here on this momentous occasion," PennDOT District 11 Executive Dan Cessna said as dignitaries gathered at the spot where a "Future 376 Corridor" sign was unveiled in April 2006.
PennDOT Secretary Allen Biehler said that when the project was conceived 15 years ago, officials thought it might take as much as $200 million and five decades to bring the road up to interstate highway standards.
"It's tough to do with a road built in the '50s and '60s," he said.
Instead, working with federal authorities, PennDOT and other agencies fashioned a project budget that totaled just under $40 million for various road and interchange improvements and new signs. The biggest item was $15 million for the ongoing reconfiguration of the Routes 22/30/60 interchange near Robinson Town Centre.
As part of the project, exits have been or are being renumbered across the corridor. Exit 1 will be at I-80 in Mercer and the numbers will ascend as the highway moves south and east, corresponding to the mileage. Montour Run Road becomes Exit 58; the Green Tree interchange becomes Exit 67; Edgewood/Swissvale becomes Exit 77.
The section of old Route 60 owned and maintained by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission will remain a toll road, but will also be part of the I-376 corridor.
Lawrence County Commissioner Daniel J. Vogler, one of scores of local elected officials who supported or took part in the project, said the interstate designation would provide an economic boost in the corridor.
"Many businesses look for interstates and proximity to interstates when they are considering relocation and expansion," he said.
"When anybody is looking to market a region ... it's sort of automatic. If you have an area you're trying to develop, it better be on an interstate," said former U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart, who championed the project and attended yesterday's ceremony.
Her successor, Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless, continued the effort, securing key funding and legislative amendments.
"The designation of I-376 is literally putting our region on the map as a place that has the highway infrastructure that businesses are looking for when they consider where to expand and relocate," Mr. Altmire said in a statement from Washington.
First Published November 7, 2009 12:18 am