State College Area Connector Project

Project History

PennDOT is currently planning a large highway project in Centre County. There are a variety of routes being considered for connecting Rt. 322 where it ends at Potters Mills Gap, to Interstate 80. The project is still in the preliminary Planning and Environmental Linkage study, or “PEL” stage. As of April 2022, there is still time for the public to weigh in on how they would like this to look given the various impacts it could have to Centre County.

PennDOT proposals to build highways in our area have emerged since the 1960s. The Centre County Historical Society has had a voice in all of these discussions, as part of our mission to collect, interpret, preserve, and promote Centre County’s cultural and natural heritage. We feel that members of the public and organizations such as CCHS can and should be involved in the process so that it is done in the least damaging way possible, is sensitive to historic, cultural, and natural resources, and documents any resources that may be lost.

The following is some background highlighting CCHS’s role in area highway projects.

In the 1960’s, PennDOT began the US Rt. 322 bypass project around State College. Without a years-long grassroots effort on the part of the community and CCHS at that time, the Centre Furnace Mansion would have been demolished.

Beginning in the 1980s, further Rt. 322 transportation projects were proposed by PennDOT as part of a larger goal to link Harrisburg to State College and Interstate 80. CCHS, along with other county organizations such as Clearwater Conservancy, and the Bald Eagle Archaeological Society, were invited to serve as commenting parties. President Emerita Jackie Melander and Cecelia Rusnak, a CCHS board member and Landscape Architecture Professor at Penn State, represented the Historical Society.

 Between the 1990s and early 2000s, Rt. 322 was enlarged and rerouted from Lewistown to just east of Potters Mills. There was much controversy surrounding further proposed extensions of the highway and the impacts they would have on our area. CCHS organized a series of public meetings to give residents an opportunity to express their concerns. In addition, CCHS and the Penn State Landscape Architecture Department invited a nationally renowned landscape architect, Grant Jones, to speak about context sensitive design for these types of projects. He and his firm successfully modified plans for traditional large highways and redesigned them as scenic roadways and wildlife highways, considering them a vital form of green infrastructure.

During this period, CCHS also undertook a significant years-long effort to submit a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places for Penns/Brush Valley Rural Historic District. The district covers eight townships, from College and Harris to Miles and Haines, and includes approximately 1200 historic resources. It is possibly the largest rural historic district left relatively undisturbed in Pennsylvania and is therefore unique. Jackie Melander and Penn State History Professor Emerita, Sally McMurray, wrote the nomination. In 2002 the district was listed as eligible for inclusion in the National Register. This gives the area an added layer of protection and can help to soften the effects of development, but does not prevent projects from proceeding.

In 2012 the next portion of Rt. 322, the leg through Potters Mills Gap, was settled on as the solution with the least environmental, historical, and archaeological impact. CCHS attempted to lessen the damage resulting from the highway by identifying significant resources in the projected path. It also supplied the information that PennDOT used to create a digital STORYMAP to tell the story of Potters Mills in its larger context in Penns Valley. Of course, mitigation efforts cannot replace what is lost – a historic community, a viewshed, a historic farm or woodlot, a neighborhood.

 As planning is underway for the newest proposed highway project, community members and organizations that value the preservation of the area must be a part of the conversation. How can we all work toward a common goal of preserving the character of this historic landscape?

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and PennDOT have a partnership through called ProjectPATH to better communicate about historical, archaeological and environmental resources that should be taken into consideration when planning a transportation project.  Community members and organizations that value the preservation of historic, archaeological and natural resources must be a part of the conversation.

Questions to consider:

  • How will the State College Area Connector Project affect the Penns/Brush Valley Rural Historic District?  A detailed evaluation and inventory of its esthetic, environmental, cultural, and social impacts on this unique and relatively pristine region is critical.
  • The display boards presented at the September 2021 public meeting contain a lot of information, but are complex to review. What can be done to more clearly communicate the information?
  • By its name, State College Area Connector Project, does this assume that SR-144 proposed route is not really under consideration?
  • The way the proposed alternative routes were presented, endorsing one over the other will only serve to pit one part of the county against the other. Is there a way we can all work together toward a common goal to preserve the historic and intact nature of this rural landscape?
  • What is the best possible solution that is the least harmful? Are improvements to the existing Rt. 322 to make the road safer being considered to adequately complete the project versus overbuilding this highway? At one point, the idea of a Mount Nittany Parkway was raised to select the direct route and separate the traffic.
  • Is there a central place where the larger PennDOT history of the Rt. 322 transportation project exists, so Centre Countians can get more background and understanding for this project’s place in the larger context of this highway project?

As plans progress and public meetings are scheduled, we will update this page. To subscribe to the CCHS e-newsletter for programming and updates, go to the bottom of this page and click on “SIGN UP FOR OUR EMAIL NEWSLETTER.” For questions or more information, contact Mary Sorensen at msorensen@centrefurnace.org.