Over the last two weeks the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) has held two important tours for the future of the Lehigh Valley, This past week, in conjunction with the New York and New Jersey Port Authority a tour of the Bethlehem Intermodal site was conducted. The site is well on its way to becoming a major inland port and several users have built distribution centers at the site to allow containers to be delivered directly from incoming rail cars to their warehouse facilities. The advantage of the site is that with the multi-modal (rail-truck) service delays at the port can be greatly reduced and shipments can flow into the distribution system much more quickly. The LVEDC is promoting this service as an alternative to trucking directly from the port. The rail service is configured to allow double stack containers and trailers on rail cars. Please contact Pete Reinke for more information (firstname.lastname@example.org).
This week, the LVEDC conducted a tour of sites in Bethlehem, Whitehall, and Allentown and LANta presented their current and future plans to provide service to several corridors in the Lehigh Valley. The trip started with attendees traveling from downtown Bethlehem on one of the new hybrid LANta buses. The group visited the former Lehigh Valley Dairy Building, the Schoen’s Building in downtown Allentown, the former Bennett and Straub auto dealerships, and One East Broad Street back in downtown Bethlehem. Each of these sites are located on the trunk corridor of LANta’s bus service. Each represent redevelopments which will include commercial, office, and potentially residential uses. The redevelopment of these properties will include a focus on access to mass transit. LANta and the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission outlined their plans to promote transit oriented development. Developers interested in these site’s or other redevelopment site’s should contact Holly Edinger at LVEDC.( Hedinger@lehighvalley.org).
PennDOT’s ePermitting system has in many ways improved the process of obtaining highway occupancy permits. The Secretary of Transportation often touts how much faster and more efficient it is with permits being issued in 30 days. Obviously, many permits still require several rounds of submissions and the system requires that more information be provided in electronic format.
The system also introduces some challenges as to who can create and submit permits for different aspects of the project (developer for a driveway, municipality for the stormwater pipe crossing, utility company for a pole relocation).
Once the permit is issued, there is generally a one year period for the work to be completed unless a time extension is requested. PennDOT recently pointed out that the new ePermitting system cannot handle the extension of a permit once it has expired for greater than thirty days. Once the permit has expired, a new permit, including application fees, must be submitted. This is the way PennDOT’s regulations have always been. Now the ePermitting system forces PennDOT to enforce the rule.
A word to the wise – once you get a PennDOT Highway Occupancy Permit make note of when it expires. Make sure if you have not completed and closed out the permit work you get your renewal approved within 30 days.
PA State Senator John Rafferty introduced legislation this past week which addresses our funding crisis. The legislation is similar to the plan described by Governor Corbett in his budget address earlier this year except that it would be phased in over three years (instead of the Governor’s five year plan) and would provide $2.6B as opposed to the Governor’s $1.9B. The $2.6B is consistent with the Funding Commissions recommended level of funding.
Full details of the legislation have not been made available and it appears that there may be some resistence to these funding levels. The increased revenue would come at an increased fuel cost to the average motorist (who drives 12,000 miles per year) in the range of $2.50 to $3.00 per week.
The benefits to motorist and to all citizens would be reduced costs for vehicle maintenance (thanks to the improved roads and bridges), the creation of thousands of jobs across the state, and improved economic conditions associated with better roads, bridges, and mass transit system.
This legislation makes sense in that it is directly relating the collection of revenue with the users of the transportation system. It will be critical that this legislation move forward quickly if it is to have any chance of passing. The State Legislature has numerous issues to address (Pension Reform, Liquor Store Sale, State Budge) this year. With election season on the horizon lets hope that the political will exists to address these issues.
Also this week, State Representative Donna Oberlander introduced legislation which would abolish the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and would turn the toll roads over to PennDOT control. Legislation to eliminate the Turnpike Commission has been introduced several times recently but has not gotten traction in the legislature. The question at hand is whether one organization could more efficiently serve the transportation needs of the state.
Benchmark recently updated their web site to provide additional information for our clients and potential clients. We have a direct link on the site to our Bencivil Blog where we regularly post updates to changes in PennDOT regulations, infrastructure funding, and insights into the civil engineering services we provide. You can also see our You Tube video describing our services from the website or via the link below.
Benchmark is proud to announce that PennDOT has issued the necessary Highway Occupancy Permits for the Old Saucon Mixed Use Development in Upper Saucon Township. The project consists of a mix of residential and commercial uses and is located on Route 378 at the intersection with Center Valley Parkway.
Project owner, John Blair, indicated that construction will begin with a first phase of single family residential units which will gain access from Saucon Valley Road. The second phase will consist of the commercial portion of the project which will build a driveway opposite Center Valley Road at its intersection with Route 378. The project includes an internal roundabout, walking paths, and a mix of commercial buildings.
Benchmark performed the traffic studies and roadway design for the project. The project was complicated by the slow economic conditions and changing PennDOT requirements for the improvements. PennDOT issued the permits with conditions relating to the phasing of the development and the phasing of the construction of improvements.
On March 19. 2013 the American Society of Civil Engineers released the 2013 update to their National Infrastructure Report Card. The report card assesses the condition of America’s infrastructure in 16 categories. The overall grade was a D+ which is an improvement over the 2009 assessment which had an overall grade of D. The major areas of improvement were the rail system and the highway bridge system. The rail systems benefitted from significant private investment in the rail freight system and an improvement in the number of users of the passenger rail system. The highway bridge system improved slightly because of a general change in the State Department of Transportation’s programs to favor maintenance of existing facilities over expansion of the roadway system. The Bridges category received a C+ grade, In Pennsylvania, PennDOT has made a major effort to address structurally deficient bridges over the last five years. Unfortunately, because of the age of Pennsylvania’s bridges each year many additional bridges fall into the structurally deficient category. Currently 25% of Pennsylvania’s bridges are structurally deficient; that’s right, one in four bridges are structurally not able to carry their design load.
As part of the report card release, ASCE held their legislative Fly-in. Pete Terry was proud to be one of eight representatives from Pennsylvania who met with Representatives and Senators from across the State. The main focus of the visits was to share the updated Report Card findings, discuss the next Transportation Funding Bill (MAP 21, the current bill, will expire in September 2014) and to discuss the Water Resources Development Act which provides funding for dam safety, harbor improvements, and improvements to the system of inland waterways. In general, is seems that our federal legislators are beginning to understand the value of infrastructure to creating jobs, competitiveness, and our standard of living. The current fiscal constraints and a reluctance to increase user fees continues to hold back support for increased funding. ASCE indicated three key solutions to increasing our infrastructures grades; (1) Increase leadership on the state and federal levels in infrastructure renewal, (2) Promote sustainability and resilience in the design and maintenance of our infrastructure, and (3) Develop and fund plans to coordinate all transportation modes and their funding.
To see the 2009 Report Card please visit http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/
During this week, progress was made on one of four major issues currently before the State Legislature. The plan to privatize the State’s Liquor Stores passed the State House and the plan now moves onto the State Senate. The Governor has indicated that he supports privatizing the liquor stores.
The other three major issues before our legislators are a plan to fund transportation infrastructure, the State’s budget, and reforms to the State’s pension system. As part of the Governor’s budget address in early March he has introduced a plan which would reduce the State’s portion of the fuel tax but lift the cap on the wholesale fuel tax. This plan, along with some minor changes to registration and license fees would be phased in over five years and would eventually raise an additional $1.7 Billion to fund transportation infrastructure. The Governors funding commission released a report in August of 2011 indicating that funding at the level of $2.8 Billion per year would allow sufficient funding to allow us to maintain our roadway and mass transit systems at the level they are currently performing. Several legislators have suggested that when bills are introduced in the House and Senate they may include higher funding levels to allow for the maintenance and potential improvement of our transportation infrastructure.
The annual battle over the State’s budget will likely be contentious, however, the State’s revenues have shown some growth as it appears the economy in Pennsylvania has stabilized and may actually be growing slightly. The issue of Pension reform is a very difficult battle. It is likely that new workers will receive different less costly retirement plans than workers in the existing system. While private industry has moved away from defined benefit programs in favor of defined contribution programs the State government has continued to resist this change.