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.
PennDOT released their latest edition of Publication 46 – Traffic Engineering Manual in early March. The document, which is dated January 2013, includes new requirements for the performance of traffic impact studies and the associated roadway improvements design. The new manual was discussed at the Penn State Transportation Conference in early December 2012 at which time it was predicted to be released by the end of 2012.
The revisions to the manual include which software packages can be utilized for performing traffic operations analysis and traffic signal system coordination. It also includes changes to the default parameters utilized with the Highway Capacity Manual calculations. The new manual continues to promote the determination of local parameters for the analysis and the performance of multi-period analysis.
As of January 2013 PennDOT now also requires the use of the 2010 Highway Capacity Manual Methodologies in all new traffic studies. While the default factors now included in Pub. 46 are based on a small sample size Benchmark supports their use and the analysis of operational conditions with multi-periods especially when the traffic demand exceeds roadway capacity.
The link to the new Pub. 46 Traffic Engineering Manual is below. Paste this link into your browser to view a pdf file of the new manual.
On Thursday February 28, 2013 ten state representative from across Pennsylvania held a hearing at the America On Wheels Museum in Allentown. The purpose of the hearing was to gather public input concerning the Governor’s proposed transportation funding plan and needs of our state’s citizens. Pete Terry presented the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Transportation Funding Policy. Representatives from PennDOT, LANta, and other interested groups also provided testimony.
The Chamber’s policy recognizes the importance of bridges, roads, public transportation, airports, and rail freight to the economic viability and quality of life in the Lehigh Valley. The policy supports transportation infrastructure with the following points:
Promote Efficiency in Transportation Projects
Promote The Setting Of An Appropriate Prevailing Wage
Wider Use Of Tolling In New And Existing Public Highways
The Creation Of Dedicated Funding For the State Police
Gradual Adjustment The Cap On The Oil Franchise Tax (OCFT)
Implement Inflation Based Increases In Fuel & User Fees
The full policy is available at: http://www.lehighvalleychamber.org/chamber-information/transportation-committee.aspx
From the discussion following the presentations it was clear that there is an understanding that the Governors proposed $1.8 B funding program will have a significant impact on improving our infrastructure but will fall well short of the needs which have been identified.
A link to the Easton Express news article on the hearing is below.
On Wednesday February 27, 2013 the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce hosted Secretary of Revenue Dan Meuser. His comments were received by nearly 100 attendees at DeSales University. Everybody wanted to hear what the outlook is for state taxes and programs. His presentation did not disappoint in its frank perception of the financial conditions of Pennsylvania’s financial condition and the Governor’s plan to move forward. The Secretary made his presentation and then questions from the audience lead to interactive discussion. Here are some of the high points:
The Governor’s proposes a balanced budget which anticipates a modest increase in revenue and spending,
The sale of the State’s Liquor System will create revenue to support education programs,
Modifications to the cap on fuel prices at the wholesale level will generate increased revenues for transportation infrastructure,
The State’s Pension program will require a major overhaul to maintain its solvency while still providing the currently committed pension payments,
The State’s tax system requires a significant overhaul to better promote business investment.
The Secretary also discussed anticipated increases in funding for education and health and human welfare programs. He also made it clear that the State is not permitted by law to sell its lottery program but that it will hire a business growth manager for the lottery.
The next few months will see a great amount of debate and discussion over the proposed budget and hopefully this year will be another year in which a budget is approved on time.
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.