State funding problems have derailed plans for a Route 60 interchange at Neshannock Township’s Millennium Park.

Lawrence County Commissioner Steve Craig said the project was removed last week from a list of new priorities for the next 20 years. He learned of the project’s demise during a meeting in Pittsburgh with state transportation officials and members of the Southwest Planning Commission.

The funding deficit was a main topic of discussion there, he said.

While the group typically prioritizes road and bridge projects, “this was a session where we sat and took all new projects off the list,” he said.

The interchange was estimated to cost $12 to 15 million.

“There’s simply no money to do it,” he said, adding that eliminating the project will not affect Millennium Park’s progress but could influence future development.

The county was able to continue plans in redesignating a portion of Route 60 as Interstate 376, Craig said. That will involve widening the highway from one to two lanes at the intersection of Route 60, where it meets business Route 60 in Union Township.

State Rep. Chris Sainato said yesterday he was unaware that the interchange project was removed from the long-range priority list.

“My understanding is that they’ve cut most of the new projects until there is a solution to the funding crisis,” he said.

The state Legislature is addressing issues while examining Gov. Ed Rendell’s proposals to increase the transportation budget, he said.

“They’re planning as if there is no influx of new money,” Sainato said.

He noted that existing state money will be used for maintaining roads and bridges.

“I think we need to maintain what we have, first,” he said.

“The interchange (for Millennium Park) is important for bringing more growth to Lawrence County, but it would have been a major expenditure for PennDOT,” he said. The project was to have included federal dollars, he added.

When the Neshannock commerce park was first proposed, plans called for construction of a ramp onto Route 60 at King’s Chapel Road to give prospective businesses access to the state’s highway system.

The estimated cost to build the ramps has jumped from $12 million to $15 million, said Linda Nitch, Lawrence County Economic Development director.

She said yesterday she doesn’t see the elimination of the interchange plans as a major obstacle in the overall development of Millennium Park.

“We still plan to go through with improving the northern part of the park, where we hope to have a million square feet of space available,” she said.

Former U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart had earmarked $800,000 in federal funds for the interchange, but “that’s still a far cry from $15 million,” she said.

If the park can attract enough mid-sized industries and businesses, “we’ll see if we can get (the interchange proposal) back on some kind of (funding) plan.”

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