Categories
News

We’re Not Number 1!

The yearly survey of truck drivers and readers of Overdrive magazine has been released.  I can now say, as well as the index page can now say, that Pennsylvania’s highways are no longer the worst in the country.  Yes, you read that correctly. Pennsylvania’s highways are no longer the worst in the country. We’re not Number 1!

Pennsylvania has relinquished that title to Louisiana, and before you say it, it has nothing to do with Hurricane Katrina.  While the storm did damage roadways along the coast, especially the Interstate 10 bridges that cross Lake Pontchartrain, the rest of the state has no excuse and in fact has bounced around the top five worst for years now.

Considering everything that is working against PennDOT:

1.  Most if not all traffic between New England and the rest of the country pass through the state
2.  Having to maintain the same amount of state routes that is in all of New England
3.  Freeze-thaw cycle
4.  Federal highway money being siphoned off to prop up mass transit

It is not as if PennDOT is in the throws of their fiscal crisis of the 1970s and 1980s.  They have been building new expressways such as US 222 in Reading and rebuilding highways such as the Fort Washington Expressway.

Projects like I-99 rehabilitation mean we're not number 1 in worst roads this year.

When it comes to snow removal and surface treatment, they are on their game.  Just recently there was a small snow event that came through western Pennsylvania.  The state routes were clear and traffic was moving fine, but once onto the city streets of Latrobe, it was like a skating rink.

Again this year, the article mentioned myself along with the website.  The one thing I did not like about the article labeling Pennsylvania Highways a “watchdog site.” The only way that it is that, is because I watch what they do and I can change the information here accordingly. However, the term makes it sound as if I am staking out construction projects or maintenance yards watching for malfeasance.

Anyway, next time you driving through a construction zone, just keep saying to yourself, “We’re not Number 1!”

Rougher Than a Corncob – Overdrive

 
Categories
General

It’s a Road, Charlie Brown!

I’ve always enjoyed the comic strip “Peanuts” and the gang, and watching the yearly specials that air around the holidays.  I even had a dog named Snoopy, but he already had that name before my family adopted him. Not to mention, when I was little, he was by my side when I played out in my parents’ back yard. Since Charles Schulz retired from drawing the daily comic strip featuring Charlie Brown and the gang in 2000, I now get a daily Peanuts comic strip via e-mail. So when this one popped into my inbox, it definitely hit close to home. It’s as if it should have been one of the many specials that have been broadcast over the years. Perhaps its title could have been It’s a Road, Charlie Brown. Just throwing it out to see if it sticks!

The strip that arrived in my e-mail today originally appeared in newspapers on October 19, 1959.  Much like most little boys, I liked to play in the dirt with my toy trucks. Either building roads out of mud or repairing mud roads, mimicking what I saw in the real world.

Let me tell you, there was plenty to mimic back in the 1980s in southwestern Pennsylvania. The Penn-Lincoln Parkway reconstruction project was winding down just as construction was beginning on the Parkway North. Then of course there was the usual construction work that took place from year-to-year.

With my interest in roads, I’d usually end up “building” or “repairing” one made of mud. My dog, Snoopy, would usually be the first to use my mud road. You could tell by the definite paw prints in the newly poured roadway.

Linus is playing in the dirt in a strip that could be called "It's a Road, Charlie Brown."

Since it was 1959, I wonder if Linus is “building” one of those new Interstates people were talking about.

Peanuts – GoComics

 
Categories
Events News

Community Day on the Findlay Connector

Today was the Turnpike Commission’s Community Day on the Findlay Connector. The official name is the Southern Beltway and the designation is PA Turnpike 576. It was not my first visit, but my second visit to the completed roadway.  However, unlike during the National meet back in August, the State Police did not chase me off the expressway this time.

This Community Day event reminded me of the first one I attended in 1993. That was the first one the Turnpike Commission did prior to PA Turnpike 66 opening.

There were things there for everyone to enjoy during what the PTC called a “once-in-a-lifetime” event. For me, it was a twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I cite the aforementioned trip down the unopened expressway that came to an abrupt end.

This time around everyone was allowed onto the expressway and not just attendees to a road enthusiast meet. Booths of all kind lined what are the northbound lanes at the US 30 interchange, or Exit 2. Food booths provided quick meals for those who attended. The West Allegheny and Moon Area high school bands and West Hills Symphony Orchestra performed for the crowd. The PTC had a booth with information on the entire Southern Beltway project, Turnpike maps, and E-ZPass applications.  Port Authority buses made continual loops of the six-mile-long section so people to see the expressway. At the same time, others hiked, jogged, and biked the alignment.

Festivities taking place near Exit 2 for Community Day on the Findlay Connector.
Community Day on the Expressway festivities at Exit 2

I finished my Community Day on the Findlay Connector taking a ride down the expressway. I have always enjoyed these open houses that the PTC hold, and not just for the free stuff. Hopefully they continue to be a part of the PTC’s public relations “tool box.”

Getting Around: Did You Too Miss the Turnpike’s Party on Route 576? – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

 
Categories
News

Pay Now or Pay Later

Legislators are now studying whether to allow private investment in the highway system due to funding gaps at PennDOT.  Debates at the Transportation Funding and Reform Commission hearings that have taken place around the state on the idea. It is a veritable pay now or pay later scenario playing out.

Even the “father” of Interstate 99, former US Representative Bud Shuster, chimed in by saying “billions and billions of dollars can be raised by public-private partnerships” on transportation projects.  One of which he cited is the Mon-Fayette Expressway which is $2 billion short of funding.

The commission is due to issue a report on November 15 recommending new taxes or increases in existing ones. Ones targeted for increases are the 6% sales tax, 31.5¢/gallon gasoline tax, or the $36/year vehicle registration fee.  The new revenue would go towards improving highways and the 47% structurally deficient bridges across the Commonwealth. Money would also go towards PAT in Pittsburgh and SEPTA in Philadelphia.

I am for the private investment if it means improving the highway system, but not for the taxes.  The base state sales tax has been 6% since the early 1970s, and doesn’t cover food nor clothing! The gasoline tax is already one of the highest in the country. Even though gas prices are low as of this blog entry, it doesn’t mean prices will continue to stay low.  The vehicle registration fee should be on a scale depending on the weight of the vehicle. It is similar to how the Turnpike Commission calculates tolls.  The more your vehicle weighs, the more your registration. That seems only fair.  An SUV puts a greater strain on the highways, due to its weight, than a motorcycle.

More toll plazas like the Hempfield Toll Plaza on PA Turnpike 66 could appear under a pay now or pay later scenario.
More toll plazas could appear under a pay now or pay later scenario

Maybe the judges who repealed the legislature’s pay raise, but upheld their own pay raise, will donate a portion back to PennDOT so we don’t have to worry.  Although, without improvements, they’ll be earning those raises hearing lawsuits from families of those who died in bridge collapses.

Lawmakers Study Private Investment For Roads – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

 
Categories
Announcements News

2006 Official Road Map

It’s that time of the year when I receive in the mail a copy of the new 2006 official road map.  The following are the changes since the 2005 edition:

Erie County/Erie Inset
PA 290 now signed on the Bayfront Connector and East 12th Street between Interstate 90 and Interstate 79.

PA 290 signed through Erie on the 2006 official road map.

Jefferson County
PA 949 extended from its previous terminus in Corsica south to Summerville

PA 949 extended southward on the 2006 official road map.

Lehigh County/Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton Inset
PA 100 removed from Trexlertown Road through Trexlertown and signed on its bypass

PA 100 now bypasses Trexlertown on the 2006 official road map.

Mifflin County
Northern Lewistown Bypass completed with US 22 rerouted off of William Penn Highway, Fourth Street, and Juniata Street through the borough and Business US 22 signed to take its place

US 22 now bypasses Lewistown and Business US 22 now signed through the borough on the 2006 official road map.

Tioga County
US 15 (I-99) under construction from PA 287 to PA 49

US 15 under construction between PA 287 and PA 49 on the 2006 official road map.

Those are all of the changes to the 2006 official road map. It seems that practically every state agency has some advertisement on the back of the map now.  I am surprised that one of those advertisements was not for our new Gaming Control Board in order to get people ready to drop some money at one of our casinos. Whenever we get them.  I guess we just have to wait for that to come in a future edition.

Cover of 2006 official road map.
 
Categories
Events News

National Road Enthusiast Meet (Day 3)

The final day of the first National Road Enthusiast Meet featured differing modes of transportation.  We started by taking PA 60 into the city for a cruise on the Gateway Clipper to see some of the numerous bridges as well as some of the sights along the Allegheny River.  Afterwards, we had lunch at the Red Star Tavern in Station Square. It is here where I had announced a mere 364 days earlier of my intention to hold a National meet.

Back on land we turned back to the west to take in PA Turnpike 576 at the US 30 interchange.  Once on the expressway right-of-way itself, I heard what sounded like a car traveling at a quick pace.  Turning around as we headed northbound, I didn’t see anything until I looked over the median mound that is common-place on Turnpike Commission extensions only to see the “Christmas Tree” light bar of a State Police cruiser.  He caught up to us and only said to turn around; however, I was only yards away from getting Adam Prince the first PA Turnpike 576 northern terminus picture.  Considering the alternative, we were very fortunate.  Sheesh, even on foot, I get pulled over by the Pennsylvania State Police!

PA Turnpike 576 construction was one of the stops on Day 3 of the National Road Enthusiast Meet.
PA Turnpike 576 at Exit 2 facing westbound

The final event of the three day meet was to take in a ball game at the site of the 77th All Star Game at PNC Park.  Surprisingly the Pirates managed to win 3-2 over the St. Louis Cardinals, while the Steelers playing NFL’s version on the same day lost.

After the game, we returned to the Comfort Inn on Steubenville Pike where I thanked all for attending and being part of the first National Road Enthusiast Meet.  Then we called it a night and went on our respective ways.

States represented/number attended:
California – 1
Georgia – 1
Kentucky – 1
Maryland – 1
Michigan – 2
New York – 2
Pennsylvania – 2
Tennessee – 2
Virginia – 1
West Virginia – 1

 
Categories
Events News

National Road Enthusiast Meet (Day 2)

Today was the second day of the first National Road Enthusiast Meet.  We began the day at Primanti Brothers on PA 60/Steubenville Pike in Robinson Township.  Everyone seemed to enjoy this slice of Pittsburgh. I highly recommend stopping to have a Primanti’s sandwich…or a Roethlis-burger at Peppi’s. That is unless of course you’re a Cleveland Browns fan.

After that we jumped in our vehicles and traveled down PA 60 to Crafton to see the Industrial Highway.  It is the remnant of one of the many cancelled highways in the Pittsburgh area.  It now serves as an access road for businesses along Chartiers Creek.

Following that stop we headed back north on PA 60 to Interstate 79 south. The first official stop was to visit the Pittsburgh Regional Traffic Management Center. It is located at the PennDOT District 11-0 office in Bridgeville.  On the way, we saw some of the Interstate 79 reconstruction taking place south of the Parkway West interchange.

Dominic Munizza of PennDOT gave us a tour of the center, and showed us features of the Intelligent Transportation System, or ITS,  network.  He gave demonstrations of the Variable Message Sign (VMS) boards, as well as the Highway Advisory Radio (HAR) system. We also got a demonstration of the cameras that line the expressways.  In fact, we happened to arrive at the TMC just after legendary Pittsburgh Steelers broadcaster Myron Cope was involved in an accident at the Banksville Road interchange.

A tour of the Pittsburgh Regional Traffic Management Center was the focus of Day Two of the National Road Enthusiast Meet.

The group met for dinner at a restaurant with a road theme:  Quaker Steak & Lube. We ate at the Point at North Fayette location. Afterwards we took to our vehicles and headed into the city to check out the view from Mount Washington. It is the hill that overlooks the “Golden Triangle.”

That marked day two of the first National Road Enthusiast Meet.

 
Categories
Events News

National Road Enthusiast Meet (Day 1)

Pennsylvania has been the site of many firsts such as the first computer (Philadelphia) and first commercial radio station (Pittsburgh). It was also the site of the first road enthusiast meet (Greensburg).  So what a better place to hold the first National Road Enthusiast Meet than where it all began.

The first day was a journey back in time with some aspects of the present.  Myself and four attendees traveled the Lincoln Highway from Robinson to Somerset County.  Brian Butko, author of several books on the Lincoln Highway and other road-related products, joined us for part of the trip.

We began our trip by taking PA 60 from the US 22/US 30 cloverleaf in Robinson Township into Pittsburgh, then heading south on PA 837 to the Fort Pitt Bridge. Once across the bridge, we exited at the Boulevard of the Allies and followed that back to the Parkway East.  Taking the US 30 exit, we followed it to Greensburg where we then traveled on Toll Gate Road to enter the city as those who traveled then PA 1 did many times.  On the eastern side of the city, we followed old segments near Westmoreland Mall, Hyundai of Greensburg, and a long section known locally as Frye Farm Road.

South of Latrobe, we turned onto PA 981 south to access the old alignment. We spotted a rare Lincoln Highway marker located on the front lawn of a home in Youngstown. Shortly after, the caravan passed Latrobe Country Club whose proprietor is professional golfer Arnold Palmer. Our cruise continue on the old alignment through the borough and to where it joins the current eastbound lanes.

We stopped at the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor office in Ligonier where a few picked up some Lincoln Highway merchandise.  Continuing eastward on US 30 we stopped at the Flight 93 Memorial and the site of the Quecreek Mine Accident.

Flight 93 Memorial was one of the stops on day one of the first National Road Enthusiast Meet.
The flag is located at the point where United Airlines 93 impacted the ground

I offered to show everyone the Sipesville Fire Hall, where the families waited for word of their trapped relatives.  While we were waiting, a member of the Sipesville VFD stopped and asked us if we wanted to see inside.  It was quite a change from when I was an extra back in 2002 in The Pennsylvania Miners’ Story.  Afterwards we were privalged to be offered a tour of the new hall which was built as a replacement. Plans were to move the original building to the Quecreek site as part of a display.  However, the building can not make the journey in one piece, but rather would have to be cut into four sections. Unfortunately, the choice will probably be to demolish the structure instead.

That marked day one of the first National Road Enthusiast Meet.

 

 

Categories
Announcements News

The Savior of PennDOT Passes Away

He was more at home in the hallways of Penn State University than on the highways of Pennsylvania; however, Dr. Thomas D. Larson taught the government a lesson while becoming the savior of PennDOT.

Thomas Larson was born on September 28, 1928 in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania. He attended Penn State University where he earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in civil engineering. After Penn State, he attended Oklahoma State University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to further his studies. He then entered the United States Navy and served in the Navy Civil Engineering Corps. At the end of his enlistment, he returned to Penn State to be a professor.

In 1968, Dr. Larson co-founded and was named the first director of the Pennsylvania Transportation and Safety Center at Penn State. In later years, it would bear his name. Two years later he would help create the new Department of Transportation.

In 1979, while at the center, Dr. Larson was tapped by Governor Thornburgh to be Secretary of Transportation.  At the time, scandal and fiscal irresponsibility was abundant at PennDOT.

He put PennDOT on a budgetary “diet” after inheriting $2.4 billion in debt from previous administrations, and placed the department on a “pay-as-you-go” basis. With slight increases, the gas tax rose five years in a row. Pennsylvania went from number 50 to number 1 in federal money it received. The debt racked up in the 1960s and 1970s would not have to burden another generation of tax-payers and vehicle owners.

“The department was a disaster when he took over,” said Bill Green, Dr. Larson’s press secretary for three years. “The place was broke. People were going to jail. Maintenance sheds were hiring halls for politicians. There was no sense of planning.”

Dr. Larson promised “a dollar’s worth of service for every dollar collected.” He delivered, and because so, he had bipartisan support in the Legislature and across the state.

He changed the way PennDOT repaired roads. Other than in winter emergencies, they no longer use the “dump and run” patch method, but instead crews square and dig out the hole, then drain, fill, roll, and seal, so the patch doesn’t disintegrate in a day. Dr. Larson ended the “election special” paving projects, with inch-thick asphalt that lasted until the next vote. He placed emphasis on drainage, sealing, and other maintenance procedures that are still used today.

His administration solved decades of indecision, controversy, and politics to finish projects such as building Interstates 279 and 579 and rebuilding the Penn-Lincoln Parkway East “from the ground up,” as he said.

As a commissioner of the Turnpike Commission, Dr. Larson advocated raising truck weights from 72,380 to 80,000 pounds gross vehicle weight to aid commerce, and pushing for construction of the Amos K. Hutchinson Bypass and James E. Ross Highway.

After his time as savior of PennDOT, he was appointed by President George H. W. Bush to head the Federal Highway Administration where he shaped the landmark Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991. In 1992, he returned to Centre County and a year later was named to the board of Michael Baker Corporation.

Dr. Larson passed away in State College on July 20 at the age of 77.  His family believes it was due to complications from a head injury suffered in 2004.

We at Pennsylvania Highways offer our deepest sympathies to his friends and family. We also offer our thanks to Dr. Larson for the work he did in the field of transportation. He truly was the savior of PennDOT.

Dr. Thomas Larson, the savior of PennDOT.

Getting Around: Tom Larson Led PennDOT Out of Politics, Potholes – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Thomas D. Larson Biography – Penn State College of Engineering

 
Categories
Announcements News

Joining the LHHC Board of Directors

I have had an interest in roads for as long as I can remember.  Having grown up near US 30, and traveling it to visit family, it and the Lincoln Highway are special to me. So when the chance of joining the LHHC Board of Directors was offered, I accepted.

Map of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor (LHHC) of which I would be on the board of directors.
Length of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor

When the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor began in 1996, I was one of the first members.  Originally I was a “Friend.” Later became a “Friend for Life.”  I had adopted my first a Lincoln Highway sign in 2001, and three years later became the first to have adopted one in each of the LHHC counties.

In 1998, I put together a video on the Lincoln Highway for a video production class I was taking at the time. I met the Director of the LHHC, Olga Herbert, then and have known her since.

In recent years, the LHHC has expanded into fundraising ventures such as offering ballroom dancing classes.  I offered to drive my parents to one, in order to get a free meal afterwards and and take pictures during. There was an LHHC representative there that I have known since I was child.  He and my father worked together years ago, and known each other since.  When I came to pick up my parents, I ran into him and we began talking.  I mentioned the website and my involvement with the LHHC.

In April he contacted me about joining the LHHC Board of Directors.  I jumped at the chance and said it would be an honor.  The offer officially made at a July 13 meeting with him and Olga Herbert.  This evening was the first board meeting I attended, which took place in Everett. I hope that this is the start of a beautiful relationship.

 
Advertisements