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New request for stimulus funds to include I-95 repair

Philadelphia Inquirer

HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania will apply for federal stimulus money to help rebuild a 10-mile stretch of I-95 in Northeast Philadelphia and to upgrade two rail corridors in the state.

Transportation Secretary Al Biehler, speaking yesterday at a meeting of the state's Stimulus Oversight Commission, said the three projects "stood out" among 15 proposals for stimulus funding that were submitted to PennDot from all parts of the state. PennDot, in turn, will submit the applications to Washington under a program aimed at financing major transportation infrastructure improvements.

Biehler said he did not know how Pennsylvania would fare in competing with other states for funds.

If approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the I-95 project would widen the congested thruway from six lanes to eight lanes between Levick Street and Bleigh Avenue. The work would include upgrading seven ramps and seven bridges.

The work is estimated to cost $195 million, with $95 million of that proposed to come from stimulus money. The proposal would extend work that began in May to reconstruct the I-95 interchange at Cottman Avenue. PennDot's long-range plan is to redo most of I-95 in the state.

The two rail-project proposals to be submitted to Washington include one along CSX tracks in southwestern Pennsylvania, and one along Norfolk Southern tracks in the eastern half of the state.

The CSX proposal, which PennDot ranks No. 1 on its statewide priority list, would elevate the many bridges over the tracks to permit containers to be stacked two-high on flat cars.

The route proposed to be upgraded is the old Baltimore & Ohio Railroad corridor, crossing several states. The Pennsylvania portion starts just south of Bedford and runs through Pittsburgh, on into Ohio.

Similar work was done in the 1990s to permit double-stacking of shipments along the old Pennsylvania Railroad tracks.

Biehler said several states were involved in the application for stimulus funds, with Ohio taking the lead. The multistate project will cost $774 million, with $194 million proposed to come from stimulus money. Pennsylvania, on its own, would contribute $35 million.

The Norfolk Southern proposal, to cost an estimated $609 million for work across several states, would involve tracks that roughly run parallel to Interstate 81 from the Maryland border to the Harrisburg area. The route then runs roughly parallel to Interstate 78 from Harrisburg to New Jersey.

The work would include adding tracks, improving track, and upgrading intermodal terminals. The railroad estimates that, by increasing the amount of shipping that the line can handle, it would eliminate the need every year for 700,000 long-haul truck shipments.

The application will call for $300 million in stimulus funding. Pennsylvania would put in $45 million.

The Stimulus Oversight Commission, meeting for the first time since July, reported that Pennsylvania state government so far has spent a little less than $3 billion of the $9.5 billion it expects to receive from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

More than one-third of the funds - $1 billion - has gone to buttress the Medicaid health insurance program for low-income people. An additional $624 million has gone to help pay unemployment benefits for laid-off Pennsylvania workers, and $535 million has gone for repair of highways and bridges. The state has not reported any estimate for the total number of jobs created by the program.