Last in a series of stories following PennDOT District 3 officials' annual meeting with The News-Item.

SHAMOKIN - A smile broke out across Sandra Tosca's face when asked if the state's commitment of hundreds of millions of dollars toward the Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway (CSVT) represented a victory of sorts for her and the staff of PennDOT District 3, who have worked on this project for more than a decade.

"I view it as a very amazing opportunity," said Tosca, District 3 executive.

She otherwise deflected attention from her staff and began to thank state and federal legislators, chamber leaders and others whose persistence has seemed to finally push the project to reality.

Tosca and her staff are already at work on the many tasks that need to be handled before the first bids come in around April 2015.

"This project has certainly been through some highs and lows," she said.

Sen. John Gordner, R-27, headlined an April 3 press conference at which it was announced that the state had committed more than $400 million in state money, plus $150 million from the Appalachian Region Commission, toward the project. The $558 million represents the largest chunk of $1.8 billion that is part of Gov. Tom Corbett's "Decade of Investment" plan for highway, bridge and mass transit improvements. While that plan needs approval as part of the state's 2013-14 budget, Gordner said he wouldn't have made the announcement without confidence in the funding stream being approved.

Mile-long bridge

The 13-mile road and bridge project, expected to take 10 years to construct, will help alleviate congestion on the Routes 11-15 "strip" between Selinsgrove and Shamokin Dam as well as on Route 147 in the Northumberland area.

The first contract, for which bids could be accepted in April 2015, would be for the $160 million bridge that will cross the west branch of the Susquehanna River just north of County Line Road, south of Winfield. On the east side of the river, the thruway will link to Route 147 in Point Township north of Northumberland and then end at I-180 in West Chillisquaque Township.

The bridge will be nearly 1 mile long and will drop from some 170 feet in height on the western side of the river to approximately 30 feet on the east side. The length, however, will cut down on any dramatic fall; the slope, in fact, is less than one-half percent, said Eric High, assistant district executive for maintenance.

The bridge will easily be the highest and longest in District 3's nine-county region. The bridge being reconstructed over the main branch of the Susquehanna on Interstate 80 near Mifflinville, by comparison, is 60 feet high and 2,000 feet long.

The next phase of the project would be to construct the six-mile northern section, which starts at the interchange that would be built north of County Line Road near the west side of the bridge, continues across the bridge and up to I-180.

Once the northern section is complete, it will be opened for use, Tosca said at the April 3 news conference.

The final phase would be the seven-mile southern section. It starts at what is now the northern terminus of the Selinsgrove bypass, swings west all the way to Penns Creek near Route 204 before turning north and somewhat back east as it parallels the current Routes 11-15 toward Shamokin Dam. It eventually links to the northern section near Winfield. As a final phase of the project, the thruway will be linked to Route 61 at the Veterans Memorial Bridge in Shamokin Dam.

How it's funded

The state funding is estimated at $408 million with $150 million coming from the Appalachian Regional Commission. Already, $42 million has been spent on planning, impact studies and right-of-way acquisitions, PennDOT reported.

The state funds will come from Pennsylvania's Motor License Fund, which gets its money from the state gasoline tax, motor vehicle license and registration fees and other fees. The governor plans to increase revenue by gradually lifting the cap on the state Oil Company Franchise Tax over five years.

Tosca said a lot of the credit for the reinstatement of the project, which had been considered in hibernation because of a lack of funding, goes to the area's lawmakers who never lost sight of the benefits of the CSVT.

"When the new administration came in, and even with the prior administration, the have worked to keep this on the front burner," she said.

She thanked Gordner and a host of local legislators past and present, former U.S. Rep. Chris Carney and current Reps. Tom Marino, R-10, and Lou Barletta, R-11, and Sen. Pat Toomey.

She also gave credit to the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce.

"You have a group of folks that have not been silent about this, even when the funds were not there," Tosca said.

Financial plan

The primary work taking place this spring is establishment of a "sound financial plan" that will need approval by the state and the Federal Highway Administration.

"We are getting things aligned right now," Tosca said. "We have to show we can not only fund and construct this project, but maintain it in the future."

She looks forward to the road ahead.

"We are going to proceed on the items we can do now and get ready to proceed quickly when we have approval," she said.