By State Rep. Lee James (R-Venango/Butler)
Would you like to hear about how one Pennsylvania state agency achieved the impossible by proposing the incomprehensible and how it could put your job at risk, threaten your family’s safety and pose for you at the very least a significant inconvenience? Let’s start at the beginning.
The state agency I’m referencing is the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). At a time when partisan bickering and fights tend to be the norm, PennDOT found a way to bring a broad and diverse local coalition of people together who share the same cause. Employees and employers, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, workers and business owners all seem to, for the most part, agree on this one issue. I almost wouldn’t be surprised if PennDOT’s proposal led a lion to lay down with a lamb.
PennDOT instigated this community unity when it commissioned a study to consider the potential maintenance cost savings associated with closing down two lanes along Route 8 from Franklin to Barkeyville. When word spread about this incomprehensible proposal, local residents of all backgrounds and perspectives seemingly began scratching their heads in unison.
First, there is the idea that closing down two lanes of this highway could reduce maintenance costs. While it could be true, it makes about as much sense as closing down a business three days per week in order to reduce operating costs. While it is likely to reduce costs, it’s also going to drive down revenues. In the case of closing half the lanes on Route 8, the negative effects on local businesses and workers may outweigh any cost savings.
This brings me to my second point. Reducing Route 8 from four lanes to two lanes would be a significant blow for our local economy. Businesses rely on that stretch of road to ship their products. Route 8 connects local businesses with Interstate 80, and I-80 connects local businesses with national and international markets. Local workers, who realize a slowdown in business could jeopardize their jobs, have voiced opposition to the proposal.
Then there is the general safety concern associated with a two-lane roadway. If the two lanes are not separated by a median, the dangers posed to local drivers could be drastic. Head-on collisions will become a constant threat, especially when wintry weather delivers snow and ice that could lead to deadly accidents. I can’t imagine the family members of the first deadly crash victim will be interested in learning how much PennDOT saved in reduced maintenance costs.
Finally, the proposal would lead to longer travel times along that stretch of road, which would pose a significant inconvenience for local drivers. PennDOT notes the traffic volume along the current four-lane highway is not very high. I would never have thought a road’s relatively open and free-flowing traffic would be a reason to reduce its capacity.
I really don’t mean to be harsh toward PennDOT. I understand the agency is just doing its due diligence to ensure limited tax dollars are responsibly spent in the best possible manner. Let’s hope when the study comes back, the decision is made to simply rebuild the existing four-lane roadway, and all of this was just an exercise necessary to check off a box on a bureaucratic form.
I’m concerned about this issue because I see the potential in our area if Route 8 remains a four-lane highway. We are blessed to have innovative entrepreneurs and a talented workforce, both of whom can compete in international markets if they’re given a fair chance through reasonable access to our nation’s highway transportation system.
That is why I have been working with colleagues on the state and local level in an effort to prevent Route 8 from being downsized from four lanes to two. I also have been impressed by the public engagement on this issue. However, I recognize not every person has time to attend a public meeting to voice their stance on an important issue like this one.
That is why I have established a petition that residents can sign opposing the potential plan to reduce the number of lanes on Route 8. They can “digitally sign” the petition by visiting my website at RepJames.com
and clicking on the “Sign the Route 8 Petition” link. They also can call my district office by dialing 814-677-6413 to add their name to the petition. I plan to provide the names on the petition to PennDOT to show the community’s stance on this issue.
For the sake of our region’s economic future and the safety and convenience of local drivers, I urge you to make your voice heard by signing this petition.
Representative Lee James
64th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Dan Massing