Celebrate Engineers Week

As with so many other professions and great causes, this week we celebrate Engineers Week.  I’m not a big supporter of special celebrations and I think Hallmark has much too strong of a marketing department.  I will say that February does find me thinking and doing something special for my Valentine.

Engineers call for a different type of celebration.  We do so many things to improve the quality of life and we accept graciously that we are not the stars of media or society in general.  We are happy to sit back, do our jobs, and quietly know that we make a difference.  Maybe that lack of outreach has contributed to the decline of our infrastructure.  Sometimes the bureaucracy of our daily work tasks makes it hard to see that we are an honorable learned profession and that we have a responsibility to grow and better serve our clients and mankind.

This year I was disappointed to not be able to attend the Lehigh Valley’s Engineers Banquet.  I can remember being involved with the planning of the event for many years and have been honored by my peers with awards.  To those who continue to work hard for their profession, this week is a proud tribute and I thank them for their contributions.


PennDOT ePermit Submission Requirements Increase

PennDOT District 5 has added the submission of three additional items to their list of requirements.  They are requesting that Microsoft Excel files be provided for the following:

Segment/offset sign tabulation

Form CS-4401 (for each ramp) and

RMS Pavement Data Form

The segment/offset sign tabulation has been required on the plans and as a printed copy since the start of the implementation of the ePermitting system.  This tabulation identifies all of the signs, their legends, and their locations within the limits of work.  Benchmark has prepared this information in an Excel spreadsheet since the start of ePermitting so this does not create much of an additional burden for applications.

Form CS-4401 relates to the details of the construction of handicap ramps within the project.  This form is useful for the construction inspector to check that the ramps have been properly constructed.  Prior to receiving this new request in January 2013, Benchmark prepared this form only as part of a request for technical infeasibility for the ramp to meet all the ADA requirements.  This occurs frequently when the existing grades adjacent to ADA ramps do not fall within the ADA slope requirements.  Frequently most, but not all of the slope requirements can be satisfied.  Providing this information for every handicap ramp on a project will increase the amount of work required to make a complete submission.

The RMS Pavement Data form creates historical documentation of the pavement constructed at a site.  Currently Benchmark requests the pavement history from the PennDOT Archive Office and displays it in a detail on the plans.  Completing the new form requires the pavement information to be added to this form along with any new proposed pavement.  This can create a significant burden depending on the number of different pavement sections within the limits of the proposed project.  Providing this information along with the plans for a highway occupancy permit does not guarentee that the pavement will be constructed since some projects are permitted but never constructed and sometime the final construction differs from what is indicated on the plans to address field conditions.

These three additional requirements may not seem like a lot to ask but it increases the time and effort required to prepare and get highway occupancy permits approved.

Does PA Governor Corbett’s Transportation Plan Go Far Enough?

This week Senator John Rafferty, chariman of the Senate Transportation Committee, responded to the Governors proposed $1.7 Billion Dollar Transportation Funding Plan indicating that he did not feel that the plan went far enough.  Senator Rafferty suggested that the plan should also include increases to vehicle registration fees and drivers license fees to generate the additional funding and that his goal for a funding amount was in the $2.7 to 2.8 Billion dollars per year range.  There seems to be some bipartisan support for increasing the funding to this level, however no specific legislation has been introduced.

There is also discussion of using private public partnerships to generate the funds for some major bridge rehabilitation projects.  Under theses plans a private group would fund the bridge repairs and then collect tolls on the bridge for a set period of time before turning the bridge back to the public.

For more detail please follow the link below.


PA Governor’s Plan for Transportation Funding

On February 4, 2013 the Governor released his long awaited Transportation Funding Plan. The plan is a political masterpiece and also a good plan for Pennsylvania. Secretary of Transportation Schoch described the details of the plan in a press conference later that afternoon. The plan includes a cut of nearly four cents in the portion of the gas tax which the state controls. This satisfies many in our world who want to cut taxes, cut taxes, cut taxes. The plan also, over the next five years, increases the cap on the tax charged at the wholesale level. Currently the tax is only charged on the first $1.25 of the wholesale price of a gallon of gas. The current wholesale price is about $2.50 a gallon. By charging the tax on the full wholesale price an estimated $1.8 billion dollars per year will be raised. It is not clear how much of the increased tax will be passed through to the consumer by those big nasty oil companies.

While this plan falls far short of the funding identified by the Governor’s Transportation Funding Advisory Commission, it is a step in the right direction which may find enough votes for passage. The Advisory Commission had recommended funding levels slightly higher than this proposal to just maintain the condition of our current roadway system and significantly greater funding to actually improve our system.

Investing in our transportation infrastructure pays dividends both in job creation and by making Pennsylvania more attractive for business. The next step will be for the introduction of legislation in the PA House and Senate to put a funding plan into law. Benchmark will keep abreast of any legislation introduced and we hope that you spend the time to tell your legislators how you feel about funding transportation infrastructure.

Secretary Schoch’s presentation slides can be viewed at the link below.

Pete Terry

Transportation on St. John, US Virgin Islands

The last week of January is a great time to get out of Pennsylvania and visit somewhere warm. Maggie and I caught a flight out of Lehigh Valley International Airport at 6AM on a 12 degree Saturday morning. We found ourselves on St. John at 3PM that afternoon (include one hour for the time zone change). The weather was in the low 80s and the humidity was about 80%. What a great getaway. The trip included the puddle jumper from Allentown to Philly, a 747 to St. Thomas, and a 50 minute ferry boat ride to St. John.

St. John is a very different world. They drive on the wrong side of the road but the steering wheel is still on the correct side. The roads are narrow and generally very curvy and steep. About 70% of the island is a US National Park. The rest of the island seems to be packed together and I understand there is a moratorium on new building. You can rebuild on existing foundations but nothing new. Most of the island is filled with hills and deep valleys. What areas of the island that are not US National Park are filled with vacation houses and the services to support them.

Parking is a problem on the island. The number of cars on the island is limited and I was surprised that there were very few mopeds or motorcycles. While the harbors were crowded with expensive boats, the cars on the island were pretty plain. The native people on the island lived clearly at the lower end of the economic spectrum. There were lots of weekly visitors, but there were also a lot of what I perceived as the super-rich.

The beaches and water and mountains are definnitely some of the most beautiful I’ve seen. We decided not to rent a car and had no trouble getting around with the taxis and shuttles. It was a wonderful get-away. For a few photos paste this link into your browser.

Pete Terry