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The I-83 Master Plan
A Tool for Planning and Programming
Joseph F. Hollinger

I-83 from the river bridge to the I-83/PA/581 Interchange

Of ten the best approach to a problem is the simplest. This concept is especially true when it comes to transportation planning studies. Too often the excessive volume of data overwhelms the message, complicating the meaning and making the product, which is the planning document, an unusable tool. Consequently, when the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) initiated a study of Interstate 83 through the Harrisburg area, they envisioned a product that would be concise and user-friendly, would target the steps necessary to achieve a solution, and would be a beneficial tool for making project planning decisions.

Interstate 83 extends from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to Baltimore, Maryland. It serves as an important regional connector in the Northeast United States, carrying people and goods from New York and New England to southern and western parts of the country. In the Harrisburg region, I-83 is part of the Capital Beltway, connecting with I-81, US 322, US 22, I-283, and providing access to the Capital City. The highway also offers access to the many commercial and industrial areas along the corridor.

Increases in both regional and local traffic have stressed the capacity of I-83 around Harrisburg. The section of I-83 between the New Cumberland Interchange (Exit 40B) and Interstate 81 (Exit 51) has reached a critical threshold. Average volumes in the corridor exceed 120,000 vehicles per day in some locations and are expected to reach 198,000 vehicles per day by the year 2030. Any incident such as a breakdown or accident has a profound and detrimental effect on the operation of the entire Harrisburg roadway network. PennDOT along with the local Metropolitan Planning Organization (the Harrisburg Area Transportation Study, or HATS) decided that a comprehensive approach would be required, but first they needed a plan. Funding limitations and the challenge of maintaining traffic prohibited improving the entire eleven miles at one time. PennDOT needed to better understand the traffic characteristics and deficiencies throughout the corridor. Issues such as logical termini, construction sequencing, preliminary cost estimates for design, right-of-way acquisition, and construction needed to be addressed.

The consulting team led by McCormick Taylor, Inc. was retained by the Department of Transportation to prepare the I-83 Master Plan.

The study featured intense coordination between PennDOT District 8, PennDOT Central Office, the Federal Highway Administration, and the consultant team. The time frame for completing the study was only 18 months, much less than is normally allocated for a project of this magnitude. The result is a concise, 65-page document that summarizes the findings with figures, tables, and photographs. It contains corridor-wide information to establish project needs, an environmental overview, a public involvement summary, consideration of improvement concepts, and a project deployment plan. The eleven-mile corridor was divided into four sections, based on logical termini. The deployment plan includes the schedule for design and construction sequencing. The I-83 Master Plan is easily distributed, easily referenced, and easily understood. It is available on the website

Preliminary solutions proposed in the Master Plan address existing deficiencies of the corridor, such as deteriorating pavement, inadequate safety characteristics, and high traffic volumes. Future multi-modal facilities such as the anticipated CORRIDORone commuter rail line and additional bus routes were factored into the plan.

The I-83 Master Plan is supported by a large amount of traffic, design, and environmental data that has been copied to DVD and is available to accompany the planning document. This data will be extraordinarily useful during the Preliminary Engineering phase of the four project sections.

Throughout the study process, an extensive public outreach plan was implemented that ultimately helped achieve public consensus on the Master Plan. Input from municipalities and many other special interest groups was solicited throughout the course of the study. In the end, the I-83 Master Plan presented a concept that centers around preserving the quality of life and promoting economic viability in the Harrisburg region.

The I-83 / I-283 / US 322 Interchange

Traffic on the I-83 Susquehanna River Bridge

Most importantly, by using the information provided in the I-83 Master Plan, PennDOT and HATS will be able to plan and program the four I-83 sections. The first section, I-83 East Shore Section 1, is expected to begin the preliminary engineering and environmental clearance phase in early 2006.

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