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Jason Malmont, The Sentinel 

Mike Keiser, PennDOT District 8 engineer, says the most critical section of Interstate 81 that needs widening is between Exit 44 and Exit 52.

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Carlisle Area Chamber discusses growing price tag of I-81 expansion

The grand total for widening Interstate 81 in Pennsylvania, from Maryland to I-78, is pushing $3 billion according to the latest highway study revision by PennDOT.

The new findings were presented Tuesday afternoon at a meeting organized by the Carlisle Area Chamber of Commerce, where public officials and business leaders discussed the lack, thus far, of a solid path forward to fund widening of the increasingly congested interstate.

“We need to get past the studies and on to action,” said Kirk Stoner, Cumberland County’s planning director. “We need to get organized now. We can’t let that apathy set in again.”

Stoner said there was a distinct sense that too little had been done since PennDOT’s initial analysis of the I-81 congestion problem in 2005.

The updated study shows congestion worsening, albeit in fits and starts. A third lane of traffic in both directions will be needed by 2030 to maintain what PennDOT considers to be acceptable levels of service, estimated PennDOT District 8 Engineer Mike Keiser.

This varies depending on where one is on the interstate, at what time of day.

“Overall, that window of the day where you have comfort on the interstate is going to continue to shrink,” Keiser said.

PennDOT conducted traffic turn counts at four interchanges in the District 8 region, which covers the stretch of I-81 through Franklin, Cumberland, Dauphin, and Lebanon counties, Keiser said. Cumberland County’s Exit 44, which has seen rapid warehouse growth along its intersecting roads, has a 200 percent higher turn load than it did in 2005, Keiser said.

Cumberland County alone has seen 40 deaths in the past seven years on I-81, Stoner said.

The overall rate of crashes per miles traveled is up about 14 percent, Keiser said, although PennDOT found that the ratio of crashes involving tractor-trailers was down from 60 percent of crashes in 2005 to 35 percent in 2018.

Commuter traffic seems to be accounting for a larger portion of collisions and delays, with some relief provided by piecemeal widening projects, such as the $21 million installation of third lanes just south of the Route 581 interchange.

“Those projects have helped with the morning commute but are nowhere near where we need to be long-term,” Keiser said.

The most critical section that needs widening is between Exit 44 and Exit 52, Keiser said, but this would cost about $360 million. Barring any drastic action, piecemeal improvements will likely continue to be the name of the game.

Even after Act 89 of 2013 reconfigured Pennsylvania’s gas tax and created a dedicated transportation infrastructure fund, the state’s entire annual construction spend is still only about $2.4 billion. Federal aid to state highways is also largely dependent on gas taxes, which haven’t been raised since 1993. Pennsylvania is looking at about $7.2 billion in unfunded infrastructure needs by next year, Keiser said.

Talk in Washington of a major infrastructure stimulus expenditure, a major campaign talking point of President Donald Trump, seems to have fallen by the wayside.

“If we’re stuck in the current funding environment, it’s going to look different than if there’s funding movement at the federal level,” Keiser said.

If local officials and businesses are planning to wait for a singular infusion of federal cash to widen the interstate all at once, they’re likely to meet with disappointment, Stoner said.

This is doubly so, given that state and federal infrastructure dollars are dependent on gas taxes at a time when public and private agencies are trying to reduce their gasoline consumption, Stoner said.

“We’re trying to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels at the same time our revenues are dependent on increased use of fossil fuels,” Stoner said.

That leaves the question of how state and local authorities can come up with a long-term funding model.

Pennsylvania has yet to put out anything concrete, but Virginia has started to do so, and it’s goal is nearly the same, seeking to do $2.2 billion worth of work to the Virginia stretch of I-81 over the next 7 to 10 years, according to state reports.

“There are a lot of parallels between Pennsylvania and Virginia right now, which is why I want to see them work closer together,” said Andy Alden, a transportation researcher at Virginia Tech who heads the I-81 Corridor Coalition.

Last month, the Virginia Commonwealth Transportation Board also issued an update to its I-81 improvement plan, one that included possible numbers on how to pay for the work.

Virginia planners floated two options, or a combination there of: an add-on to retail sales and liquid fuel taxes in the corridor jurisdictions, as well as tolls to be imposed on vehicles. Those tolls would likely be weighted heavily toward trucks, with commuter cars being able to purchase a yearly pass to use the interstate for a flat fee, whereas commercial trucks would pay a higher per-mile rate.

Virginia’s plan also incorporates another aspect of interstate improvement that Pennsylvania has been catching on to: the lack of truck parking along I-81.

“We know that we are far, far short of the parking that’s needed along the interstates,” Keiser said.

Truck drivers, under federal regulation, are now subject to electronic logging of how many hours they’ve been on the road without a break. This seems to have exacerbated the issue of truckers scrambling to find a place park their rig once they’re hitting their legal limit of road time.

Pennsylvania wrapped up a request-for-information process last month in which the state sought proposals from investors on possible public-private partnership ventures to create truck parking facilities.

Highway freight in Pennsylvania was estimated at 867 million tons in 2011, according to the state, and is projected to hit 1.5 billion tons per year by 2040.

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Carlisle Schools
Carlisle Area Chamber of Commerce affiliate eyes purchase of Swarner building from Carlisle Area School District

Pending the approval of a sales agreement, the Swarner House next to Lamberton Middle School could be the new home of the Carlisle Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Carlisle Business Education Foundation, an affiliate of the chamber, is engaged in talks with the Carlisle Area School District for the purchase of the 112-year-old building.

The district has given CBEF until Jan. 31 to decide on the agreement. The chamber board could then vote on whether to sell the existing chamber office at 212 N. Hanover St.

The Carlisle Area School Board property committee is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Thursday to review a draft purchase agreement for the sale. The meeting will be held in the large group instruction room of the Fowler building of Carlisle High School.

The brownstone and brick Swarner House is the first old building travelers come across after leaving Interstate 81 at the Hanover Street exit to head north toward downtown Carlisle. Built in 1907, the house sits on a 2.86-acre site the district purchased in 1999 through a sheriff’s sale for about $575,000.

The future of the Swarner House became a topic in 2013 when the district was considering the purchase of the former Pennsylvania Department of Transportation maintenance building at 540 W. North St. The district eventually made the purchase and relocated its maintenance department from the Swartz building of the high school to the former PennDOT building.

The district is converting the former warehouse space at the Swartz building into office space to relocate staff from the Swarner building. At one point, the district planned to invest an estimated $400,000 toward the renovation and repair of the house to prepare it for a lease. Instead the district reconsidered and decided to put the house up for sale to a nonprofit tax-exempt organization.

Last fall the chamber organized a task force to find a temporary location for chamber meetings and/or offices, said Michelle Crowley, president and chief executive officer. The office on North Hanover Street was going to lose parking spaces to an upcoming project to install a traffic roundabout.

Seven years ago, the chamber contacted the school district to determine if there was any interest in selling the Swarner House, Crowley said. The property was not for sale at the time. But talks began in late 2018 after the district had a change of heart.

The Swarner House would give the chamber 27 off-street parking spaces along with an expanded board room and additional meeting space, according to a chamber press release. It would allow chamber members to use space for business functions more easily than the North Hanover location.

“It is an outstanding property,” Crowley said. “Everybody knows that building in the community.” She added it would offer the chamber greater accessibility and visibility.

Its location off I-81 offers the chamber an expanded opportunity to reach people relocating to the Carlisle area such as the incoming Army War College class or new professors at Dickinson College.

“The chamber will have an expanded information center for relocation materials,” the press release reads. This center would allow chamber members to promote their businesses.

In 2017, the Swarner House was valued at between $450,000 and $550,000, district director of finance Shawn Farr said. That same year, the district had an evaluation done of the building that found it to be structurally sound but in need of substantial repairs including a replacement roof and front porch and the repair and repointing of the stone foundation and brick work.

The district estimated that it cost about $400,000 to bring the house up to an acceptable condition, Farr said. “This is close to the value of the house and property,” he said.

The district plans to sell the property to CBEF in “as is” condition for $100,000.

If the sale is approved, CBEF will own the Swarner House and lease it to the chamber, Crowley said.

The district will subdivide the property as part of the sale, Farr said. The house, its parking lot and about 1.1 acres will be conveyed to CBEF while the access road and woods behind the House would be attached to the Lamberton Middle School property.

The access road will be owned and maintained by the district with an easement granted to the chamber so that it could access the Swarner House. To allay district concerns over the long-term use and the potential redevelopment of the property, the agreement includes language in the deed that would restrict the use of the Swarner House to a nonprofit or government use only, Farr said.

J Malmont / Jason Malmont, The Sentinel 

The Swarner House is owned by the Carlisle Area School District.

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South Middleton Township
Coroner IDs pedestrian killed in South Middleton crash Monday

The Cumberland Count Coroner’s Office has identified a Carlisle man who was struck and killed on the Holly Pike late Monday night.

Coroner Charley Hall said Jeremy P. Borawski, 45, was struck and killed while he was trying to cross the 1500 block of the Holly Pike in South Middleton Township about 9:45 p.m. Monday.

Police said he was struck by a southbound vehicle driven by a 34-year-old Gardners woman who was not named. State Police at Carlisle previously reported that she stopped and is cooperating with police.

Hall said that area of the road is dark and Borawski at the time was dressed in dark clothing.

Borawski was pronounced dead at the scene from multiple traumatic injuries.

The crash remains under investigation by police.

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Hampden Township
UPMC Pinnacle to expand hospital, cancer services in Hampden Township

UPMC Pinnacle Tuesday announced it is expanding hospital and cancer services at its West Shore campus in Hampden Township.

The health system said it plans on adding floors to UPMC Pinnacle West Shore and expand programs at the Ortenzio Cancer Center, which is on the same campus as the hospital and Fredricksen Outpatient Center.

“The response to our West Shore campus has been tremendous,” UPMC Pinnacle CEO and President Philip Guarneschelli said in a news release. “As we draw closer to celebrating the hospital’s fifth anniversary, we are pleased to be able to grow with the community and serve the needs of area patients even better.”

The hospital was built in 2014 with the idea that it could be expanded in the future. The five-floor hospital has 102 beds, and the health system said it operates at 90 percent capacity consistently.

The planned additional floors, which will be built above the existing Emergency Department, will add 58 beds.

UPMC Pinnacle said it is seeking approvals for the expansion with Hampden Township that will include site development plans, a traffic impact assessment, reservation of sewage capacity and Cumberland County Conservation District approval. The health system also said its goal is to minimize the effect of construction on patients as they move ahead with the expansion.

The Ortenzio Cancer Center was also built in 2014, with plans for expansion, and previously focused on gynecological and breast cancers. New plans involve offering services for other types of cancer, including thoracic, gastrointestinal, genitourinary and head and neck.

“The need for chemotherapy procedures for West Shore residents continues to increase,” said Adam Dimm, vice president of operations and interim vice president of oncology services. “By expanding the options available at the cancer center, more women and men in our community can access vital treatment and services in a modern, comforting setting that’s easily accessible.”