Interstate 99 is a rural freeway traveling northward through central Pennsylvania from Bedford near the PA Turnpike (I- 70/76) to I-80 near Bellefonte. Also known as the Appalachian Thruway and the Bud Shuster Byway, it is the first Interstate highway to have its designation written into law (National Highway Designation Act of 1995). The designations for several other Interstates, including I-66 in Kentucky, I-86 in New York, and I-69 in Texas, were subsequently written into law.
Ultimately, I-99 will continue north from I-80 via U.S. 220 to Lock Haven and Williamsport, and along U.S. 15 north to the New York state line by Lawrenceville. The short section of U.S. 15 leading north to I-86 at Painted Post, NY was designated as Interstate 99 on June 27, 2014.1
Speed limits along Interstate 99 were raised to 70 miles per hour (mph) from mile marker 34 in Blair County to Exit 68 in Centre County, and from mile marker zero at the PA Turnpike in Bedford County to Exit 28 in Blair County. Additionally a 49 mile stretch of U.S. 15, from PA 14 in Lycoming County to the New York state line, was increased to 70 mph. PennDOT announced increases on these stretches in May 2016.2
Located east of I-79 and west of I-81, I-99 falls outside the standard numbering convention outlined for Interstate highways. Under the orderly system, odd numbered Interstates increase in number from I-5 on the West Coast eastward to the Atlantic seaboard. While central Pennsylvania is pretty far east, it is still well away from the Atlantic Ocean. Several north-south routes, including I-81, I-83, I-87, I-89, I-91, I-93, I-95 and I-97 all lie east of Interstate 99. Congressman Bud Shuster both determined the number for the Appalachian Thruway and was responsible for writing Interstate 99’s designation into the 1995 National Highway Designation Act.
Interstate 80/99 Interchange
A $35 million Infrastructure for Rebuilding America Grant (INFRA) was awarded to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation toward funding construction of a high speed interchange linking I-99 with I-80 near Bellefonte on June 5, 2018. Estimated to cost around $200 million,14 the new ramp system replaces the parclo A2 interchange at U.S. 220 and PA 26 joining the north end of I-99 with Interstate 80.
The overall project consists of three sections. Underway in June 2020, initial construction built a new local access interchange connecting I-80 with PA 26 to the east of the exchange with I-99. This exchange was completed in mid December 2022.
The Jacksonville Road Betterment (26/147) project realigns and expands PA 26 along Jacksonville Road. With an estimated cost of $4 to 6 million, it is scheduled to go to bid
on October 20, 2022 in Fall 2023.
The remainder of work building the three-wye interchange for I-80/99 is scheduled to bid
on March 3, 2022 February 16, 2023 in Fall 2023. Construction of the high speed exchange is estimated to cost $175 $190 million. Work was originally anticipated to run through December 2025.14
Interstate 99 in central Pennsylvania is part of High Priority Corridor 9: Appalachian Thruway Corridor.
Parallel U.S. Routes
Interstate 99 between Bedford and Bellefonte overlaps with U.S. 220 for its entirety, and it will continue along U.S. 220 until reaching U.S. 15 at Williamsport. Interstate 99 is currently cosigned with U.S. 15 in New York, and will overlap or replace U.S. 15 southward to Williamsport when it is finally signed.
The south end of Interstate 99 in Bedford may change in the future, as the highway is part of the Appalachian Thruway/High Priority Corridor 9. Improvements are envisioned for U.S. 220 south to Cumberland, though expansion to Interstate standards are not presently planned.
It is also possible that Interstate 99 could continue north all the way to Rochester via I-390. Although some discussions have considered the possibility of I-83 continuing north to Rochester, it does not appear that will occur due to the large gap of Interstate-standard freeway between Harrisburg and U.S. 15.
The initial section of the U.S. 220 freeway opened south from Bedford Township to U.S. 30 in 1969. The remainder of the route north through Bedford and Blair Counties was built in the 1970s and 1980s.3 $138 million in upgrades to Interstate standards took place along the U.S. 220 freeway north from Bedford to Bald Eagle to 1989.4 Discussions followed in the early 1990s to extend the freeway north 30 miles through Centre County to I-80 near Bellefonte.3 Spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Everett, the first signs for I-99 were unveiled on December 1, 1995 near the interchange with 17th Street in Altoona. The designation of 35 miles of U.S. 220 between Bedford and Altoona was included in the National Highway System Designation Act signed by President Clinton on November 28, 1995. The bill added 161,000 miles of roads into the National Highway System, which gained priority for federal funding. The law provided $118 million of the estimated $370 million needed at the time to complete the 30 mile long I-99 corridor north from Bald Eagle through State College.4
Three sections were proposed in 1995 to complete Interstate 99 north from Bald Eagle to the Bellefonte Bypass (PA 26). The 17.5 mile long segment from Bald Eagle to U.S. 322, including a bypass of Port Matilda, was estimated to cost $365 million. This section stretches across Skytop Mountain to join the Mount Nitanny Expressway (U.S. 322 around State College).4
The second section involved upgrading U.S. 322 between Scotia Road and Park Avenue Extension, and a relocation of PA 26. Also included was a new eight mile alignment linking U.S. 322 at Park Avenue Extension with the Bellefonte Bypass. Expansion of the four mile long Bellefonte Bypass in Spring Township represented the last section at a cost of $180 million.4
An Environmental Impact Statement for I-99 over Bald Eagle Ridge was completed by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) in 1996. The approval of TEA-21 by Congress in 1998 included a two sentence rider by U.S. Rep. Bud Shuster that eliminated federal oversight of Interstate 99.3 Subsequent approval for I-99 between Bedford and Bald Eagle was approved by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Route Numbering Subcommittee on November 6, 1998.
Land clearing for I-99 commenced in 1999 near Bellefonte and a $39 million contract to build 1.3 miles of new roadway over Bald Eagle Ridge at Skytop was awarded in 2001.3 Meanwhile the eight mile link between State College and Interstate 80 opened to motorists on November 25, 2002. Costing $200 million to build, the segment includes six interchanges.5