Boondoggle: Keystone State’s 1-83 Expansion

The wasteful widening of Interstate 83 in southern Pennsylvania won't solve any problems.

Pennsylvania seeks to widen I-83 in York County, but funds for the costly project would be better spent on operational improvements such as crash prevention. Image: PennDOT
Pennsylvania seeks to widen I-83 in York County, but funds for the costly project would be better spent on operational improvements such as crash prevention. Image: PennDOT

In this year’s installment of its annual “Highway Boondoggles” report, Gideon Weissman of Frontier Group and Matthew Casale of U.S. PIRG Education Fund deliver a stark warning about the billions of dollars states spend on unnecessary highways that fracture our cities, deprive transit of scarce funds, and pollute our environment. Below is the seventh of nine installments detailing case studies of these harmful roadways: A widening project in southern Pennsylvania that’s being touted as a way to improve traffic flow, but sucks up resources would be far better spent on operational improvements to reduce crashes and improve accident response.

Pennsylvania is moving forward with a plan to spend $300 million in order to widen I-83 in York County to eight lanes from four. But project documents fail to show how the project will solve any problems or bring clear benefits to the region.

According to the project website, aside from the vague primary goal of achieving “a more functional and modern roadway,” the main goal of the project is to “improve future traffic flow. But the initial project study conducted for PennDOT notes that “the existing I-83 mainline corridor as well as the ramp merge and diverge areas operate with reasonable free-flow operations.” The study also found the road in decent condition, with “no significant defects were noted during a field inspection conducted in July of 2017.” 

The exits on I-83 in York County that Pennsylvania will rework as part of the project. Image: PennDOT
The exits on I-83 in York County that Pennsylvania will rework as part of the project. Image: PennDOT

The study’s only mention of bad congestion in the corridor is that resulting from traffic incidents, which “cause long-lasting gridlock given the high volume of traffic.” These findings suggest that improving operations, including incident management, would be a better and cheaper strategy than expanding capacity. Indeed, the I-83 Master Plan notes that “[a]ny improvements made to this corridor should consider and evaluate” new strategies to improve system management and operations. These include new incident-detection cameras to fill coverage gaps in the existing system, “speed management, and queue-warning systems,” road-weather-information systems, and more. 

For a rural and suburban highway outside of a major metropolitan area, a low-cost strategy of improving operations rather than making massive capital investments makes sense. It would also align with strategies preached by the Federal Highway Administration. According to the administration, using so-called “transportation systems management and operations” strategies can help “make the most of the infrastructure already in place.” The administration has sought to help transportation agencies reorient “from construction to management of the transportation system.” 

By forgoing road expansion, and instead opting for a cheaper and likely more effective focus on better management and operations, Pennsylvania could both save money and better serve the needs of the region.

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6 thoughts on Boondoggle: Keystone State’s 1-83 Expansion

  1. Monies would be better put to use on local roads in York County and I don’t patching complete resurfacing is needed on 116 and old Hanover road from spring grove to menges mills

  2. I almost wonder if some backroom deal with a crony construction contractor is part of this one. It’s not even a congested road? And not even near a big city? Something smells rotten about this one.

  3. I drive I-83 in York County every day. It desperately needs to have an additional Lane in each direction at minimum due to the huge volume of trucks that travel it everyday and cause massive traffic headaches due to the substantial amount of hills in the county. PennDOT may claim the road is fine currently but anyone who drives it regularly knows it is not. It’s finally gotten it’s first decent paving in over 5+ years starting last summer and hopefully finishing this summer. They’re also overhauling multiple exit interchanges to handle the gigantic increase in volume due to major development in previously rural areas. This article gets nearly all of it wrong and clearly doesnt understand it from a local perspective.

  4. Proper speed management equals 85th percentile speed limits. The ramps ion many areas are too short and sharp turns.

  5. The 300ML is a low ball number, It will climb well past that figure.’
    PennDot is poorly managed with concentration on major roads only, local roads look jungle trails

  6. This website is run by f***** idiots who have never driven on these highways nor have any care or regard to traffic. TMS improvements won’t do anything – that’s been proven time and time again.

    I-83 is a substandard highway that has congestion issues. An expansion would bring it up to modern interstate standards and allow it to meet traffic demands.

    The state will continue forth with the improvements, meanwhile this group will continue to post these useless, factually incorrect with no evidence to support anything, and outright idiotic articles as their continuous attempts to stop these projects FAIL as they should.

    This group will not stop crying and sobbing until every roadway and long distance interstate in the United States is turned into a 2-lane 25 mph roadway with bicycle paths and large multi-use paths.

    This group is a FAILED organization that has failed every time and uses made up and frankly weak arguments to back up their claims how any and every highway improvement project should never be built.

    Find a better hobby Streetsblog. Maybe actually write productive articles instead of crying and whining about every project in the United States that 99% of the time you’ve never even used or have any experience with in your life.

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