Blog written by Barry Pennypacker, President and CEO of The Manitowoc Company, Inc.
At Manitowoc’s crane manufacturing facility in Shady Gove, Pennsylvania, countless truckloads of material come in and out our facility every day. Interstate I-81 is a central outlet for those trucks, and any problem with that highway is a problem for our business, our customers and our workers.
And I-81 has problems.
The interstate is a major freight corridor that moves manufactured goods and materials to and from the Appalachia region and the Northeast. Regionally, I-81 also serves as the primary linkage between West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, functioning as a long-distance truck bypass around major areas of urban congestion in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., metro regions.
To say it’s essential to our company’s strength is an understatement. It’s essential to our country’s economic strength. And as anyone who’s traveled on it can tell you, we need a bigger highway.
In Maryland, the existing four-lane highway carries some of the highest freight volumes in the nation by lane mile, averaging nearly 20,000 trucks per day. An accident in Hagerstown, Maryland, can cause severe congestion and delays near my plant in Pennsylvania. Widening the I-81 corridor is necessary to facilitate current traffic volumes and expected increases.
In Pennsylvania, construction is ongoing to widen key sections throughout the state. Maryland and West Virginia have each set aside millions of dollars to widen I-8I between U.S. 11 in West Virginia and Lappans Road in Williamsport, Maryland. At the end of 2016, Maryland commenced construction to expand the four-lane highway to six lanes on a 2.5 mile segment that includes four bridges.
While this project has been initiated, manufacturers need the corridor as a whole to support freight movements. Specifically, expansion needs to be completed from West Virginia into Pennsylvania.
In 2016, the Maryland–West Virginia expansion project was one of 212 applications for just one federal highway program, but the I-81 project was denied along with 194 other viable project applications. States and private enterprises cannot take on this project alone. Additional federal funds are necessary. If not, congestion will get worse, and it will be even harder to get my company’s products to our customers is a timely, cost-efficient way. Higher costs or lost business, in turn, mean it’s harder for me to hire or to give employees raises—directly effecting the livelihoods of working families.
The need is clear, and on this Infrastructure Week, I’m urging our leaders in the federal government to invest in this project and the many, many more like it across this country.
It’s the right thing to do.