Interstate 80

Interstate 80 (the “Keystone Shortway”) is a major transportation artery for Centre County, and is part of one of the nation’s most heavily traveled cross-country highways.  Its completion in 1970 marked the beginning of a more than 50-year transformation of US-322, from Harrisburg and the southeast, and US-220, now I-99, from Altoona and the southwest, into a network of super-highways that connect with I-80 in Centre County.

The Interstate Highway System had been envisioned as a means of promoting economic growth and enhancing public safety and national mobility since before World War II.  The Pennsylvania Turnpike provided one of the first examples of a high-speed, limited access, divided highway for America.  Authorized by Congress in 1956 as, in part, a defense measure, the Interstate system links the lower 48 states by 42,500 miles of high-quality highways built to uniform standards and 90% of the cost was paid by the federal government.

I-80 enters Centre County from the west, crossing Moshannon Creek, and runs approximately 35 miles to Clinton County, near the village of Lamar. The western half of the highway continues a long descent from the Allegheny Plateau in Clearfield County, where the highest point east of the Mississippi River, 2,250 feet, is reached around mile marker 111.

I-80 was completed in 1970 and provided better access to areas of Centre County. (Centre County Encyclopedia)

In Centre County, I-80 descends past the Snow Shoe exit (147), to the PA-150 exit (158), outside Milesburg, at an elevation of about 700 feet, making this stretch of the highway a frequent location for winter accidents.

I-80’s character then changes as it crosses through the Curtin Gap in Bald Eagle Ridge and gently follows the Nittany Valley eastward to Clinton County at about mile marker 173.  Centre County’s third exit, 161, is the site of a major reconstruction project that began in 2020 and is scheduled for completion in December 2025.  The high-speed interchange is intended to seamlessly link I-80 with I-99/US-220 and will remedy a long-time safety and traffic bottleneck.

In 1965, the Appalachian Regional Commission identified US-220 from Bedford to I-80 as one of several highway corridors that would improve transportation needs and address poverty in the region.  U.S. Representative Bud Shuster, who chaired the House Transportation Committee and represented the district through which US-220 passed in Blair and Bedford Counties, managed to secure funding, beginning in 1995, for the improvement of much of US-220, as well as its I-99 designation.

I-80’s history began with boosters promoting a “short route” across northern Pennsylvania to New York City as early as 1938, to connect the major cities of the Midwest with Pennsylvania’s northern cities.  After World War II, Williamsport businessmen revived the concept, and in 1954 they created the Keystone Shortway Association to promote it.

Economic studies conducted by Penn State identified many benefits for both business and tourism.  A new route south of the originally proposed US-6 corridor was accepted and ground was broken at Tannersville in the Poconos in 1958. By 1967, a 103-mile portion of the highway from the Delaware Water Gap to US-15 in Milton was open for use. Centre County residents quickly began traveling PA-45 east to the Lewisburg area to access I-80.

Three years later, the formal dedication of the completed Keystone Shortway took place on September 17, 1970, at the Milesburg interchange. I-80 stretched 313 miles across the state, cost $424.2 million, and was completed two years ahead of schedule.

Governor Raymond P. Shafer asked Penn State Blue Band director James Dunlop to lead an honors band chosen from 16 high schools across the state (State College, Bellefonte, Bald Eagle, and Philipsburg-Osceola were represented) to perform at the dedication.  Fred Waring composed a march, “Pennsylvania Panorama,” for the event. 

The future intruded, however.  The dedication took place on a Penn State home football game Saturday, and motorists coming from the east were advised to leave I-80 at Lamar to avoid a massive traffic jam in Bellefonte.

Lee Stout


Corso, Vincent. “PennDOT Details New Local Access Tied to I-80/I-99 Interchange project.” Centre County Gazette, March 1, 2019.

Keystone Shortway Association. The Story of the Keystone Shortway. Williamsport, 1970.

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. “Bellefonte Interchange Projects.” (Accessed May 31, 2023).

Pennsylvania Highways. “Keystone Shortway, Z.H. Confair Memorial Highway” (Accessed May 31, 2023).

Weingroff, Richard F., “The Year of the Interstate.” Public Roads, vol. 69, no. 4, (Jan./Feb. 2006).  (Accessed May 31, 2023).

First Published: June 14, 2023

Last Modified: March 7, 2024