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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

 
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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.

 
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Events News

Happy Birthday Interstate System!

Today I had the honor to be a part of Pennsylvania’s commemoration of the signage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which took place at the Eisenhower National Historic Site in Gettysburg. It was a birthday celebration for the Interstate System. It’s so hard to shop for a highway!

Dignitaries, media, and those who were a part of the re-enactment of the 1919 Army convoy, gathered at the Eisenhower farm. As a result, the original convoy showed a young kid by the name of Eisenhower the necessity of good transportation. Not to mention his time in World War II.

The bus ride from Gettysburg Middle School was a nice jaunt through the historic borough.  I sat next to a gentleman from Omaha, Nebraska who was representing Werner Enterprising trucking.  He gave me a foam stress reliever in the shape of the familiar Werner 18-wheeler.  He mentioned that he had never visited anything in Pennsylvania, but had driven through the state many times. Not surprising considering there are only two routes from New England to the rest of the country that bypass the state.

Once at the farm, we toured the main house where the Eisenhowers had entertained dignitaries such as Winston Churchill and Nikita Khrushchev.  It is a very beautiful and sprawling holding. After everyone had finished taking the tour, it was time for the press conference.

First to speak was Pennsylvania Secretary of Transportation, Allen Biehler.  After him were Joe Brimmeir, CEO of the Turnpike Commission, J. Richard Capka from the Federal Highway Administration, and Ted Leonard from the Pennsylvania AAA Federation.

PennDOT Secretary Allen Biehler takes the podium at the Interstate 50th ceremony in Gettysburg.
PennDOT Secretary Allen Biehler takes the podium

After the press conference, I introduced myself to Rich Kirkpatrick, PennDOT’s Press Secretary and who invited me to the event.  He praised the work I have done on the website and said it is a great resource. Specifically, he commended my work on the histories of the highways.  While we were talking, Secretary Biehler came over to speak with Mr. Kirkpatrick.  At that point, I introduced myself and Mr. Kirkpatrick remarked, “This is the guy who does that website.”  He gave me an Interstate 50th pin which is similar to the image below.

Happy 50th Birthday Interstate System

While waiting for our bus back to the school, I overheard a man talking about the weather.  I introduced myself and he did likewise. He mentioned he was a representative from the Associated Pennsylvania Constructors, which by the way own pahighways.org.  I had discovered they owned the .org of my domain once. So, I mentioned that I own the .com. He said, “We know. We tried for the .com only to find you owned it.” Hey, you snooze you lose.

Back at the school we had a lovely catered meal. I had the honor to sit at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.  While standing in line for lunch, I struck up a conversation with the Director of ODOT, Gary Ridley.  I told him that I liked the new Oklahoma route marker, and we began discussing the states that used their outlines for their markers. I also mentioned having been to Oklahoma while storm chasing, and had talked to Gary England of KWTV-TV while researching a paper in college.  Mr. Ridley said that Gary helps them with winter forecasts to determine where and when ODOT crews will be needed.  The others at the table asked me what organization I was a member.  I said, “I do a website called Pennsylvania Highways,” while Mr. Kirkpatrick happened to be walking behind me. He overheard and said, “It is a great website and resource.”

All in all, I enjoyed the event. I was honored that PennDOT even considered inviting me.  Many thanks to Rich Kirkpatrick and the PennDOT Press Office. It was indeed a happy birthday for the Interstate System.  You know what, it doesn’t look a day over 49! In conclusion, it is ironic to think that President Eisenhower’s farm can not be accessed directly via any Interstate.

Pennsylvania Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Interstate System – PennDOT

 
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News

Eliminating the Gasoline Tax (Temporarily)

A state senator from Monroeville has proposed eliminating the 31.2¢/gallon gasoline tax to give drivers a break at the pump.  On the surface that looks like a good idea.  The theory is that loosing that 31¢ would drop the average price to $2.65, but what looks good on paper, doesn’t always translate in reality.

The gasoline tax is what keeps our highways and byways from falling apart.  You can make your own jokes here, I’ll wait.

Done?  OK.  PennDOT already has their back against a wall with loosing Federal highway money to mass transit across the state.  Numerous projects have been shelved, such as the Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway which will carry US 15 around Shamokin Dam, while others have been put on the “chopping block” outright due to this funding situation. Eliminating the gasoline tax would be yet another blow to an already weakened budget.

Prices wouldn’t necessarily go down as a result. The oil companies would pocket that extra money for themselves more than likely.

The problems are speculation and the oil companies.  We are at a point where a butterfly sneezes on a pipeline, and the price skyrockets but afterwards it slowly falls.  Why?  It’s not as if God handed Moses a third tablet with oil prices up on the mount.  It seems to me that gasoline is the only thing in this world that appreciates with value, which makes me want to siphon my tank and sell it back to the station at the higher rate. I want to get in on this deal too.

The oil companies are pocketing way too much.  I’m an ExxonMobil stockholder, and before you call me “money bags,” I’ll let you in on something.  The dividend per stock share is only 27¢, but the way they’ve been raking in money hand over fist, I and all other stockholders should be retired and living the good life.

Eliminating the gas tax would affect gasoline and diesel sales.

PennDOT: Suspending Gas Tax Would Delay Road Projects Without Helping Drivers – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

 
Categories
Events News

PA Turnpike 43 Groundbreaking Ceremony

I attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the Uniontown to Brownsville section of PA Turnpike 43/Mon-Fayette Expressway today.  As a result, its exit guide and Mon-Fayette Expressway/Southern Beltway Progress Map have both been updated.  Pictures of the ceremony are on the PA Turnpike 43 page.

This was the first groundbreaking I have attended, and it was basically what I expected. Local and state officials there to give speeches on how each had a hand in helping to bring the Mon-Fayette Expressway to fruition.  Then there was the ceremonial first spade toss of dirt to signal the start of construction followed by a catered lunch for all who attended that included Stromboli, hot wings, BBQ wings, vegetables, cake, and cookies.  I gave it four stars out of five.

One of the speakers was Senator J. Barry Stout, who is one of many state officials who spearheaded the project.  The senator also happens to be the Chairman of the State Transportation Committee.  After the ceremony I introduced myself and asked if I could interview him.  He gave me his business card and told me to call his office sometime.

Once the speeches from the various state and local officials were over, it was time to get down to business. We left the tent where we had lunch and headed out to the spot where the ceremony would take place.

Groundbreaking ceremony on April 1, 2006 in Uniontown for the section of PA Turnpike 43 between US 119 and Brownsville.
PA Turnpike 43 groundbreaking ceremony outside of Uniontown

Mon/Fayette Expressway – Uniontown to Brownsville Area – Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission

 
Categories
News

Extending Interstate 376 For All the Wrong Reasons

I am trying to understand the reasons of extending Interstate 376.  Beside it creating needless work for me by having to change pages and delete some, I am against this change.

Don’t get me wrong, I am for the upgrades of the Parkway West that are included in the extension plan such as the 60 cloverleaf in Robinson. What I do not understand is the “logic” behind this renumbering.

Pittsburgh International Airport is not on an Interstate

US Representative Melissa Hart said in a WTAE-TV report in October:

We have the only international airport not served by an Interstate.

US Representative Melissa Hart

Obviously she forgot Dulles International right outside the nation’s capital. George Bush/Houston Intercontinental and LaGuardia International in New York City also do not connect to Interstates.

USAirways did not “de-hub” Pittsburgh International because it wasn’t connected directly to an Interstate.  Who knows?  The PTC might just get I-576 for the Southern Beltway which will end right at the PIA interchange on 60.

People from outside the regional will know this is no dirt road.

US Senator Rick Santorum

An exaggeration, but no matter what map you look at, it shows expressway-grade highways around the airport.

If you sign it, they will come

Some also think that placing a red-white-blue marker on an expressway automatically brings economic growth faster than a plain, boring old black and white marker.  As if the “Interstate Fairy” comes by and brings jobs overnight, ignoring the business climate of the region. Pittsburgh Airport Area Chamber of Commerce President Sally Haas said in the March 21, 2006 edition of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Having that designation is critical for getting us on the map outside the Pittsburgh region. That’s the thing that attracts developers here.

We are already on the map, any of which can be purchased in the Pennsylvania Highways Map Store.  I guess the development at the 60 cloverleaf just happened by coincidence with an Interstate designation.

Easier to get to Downtown
Map of the routes between Pittsburgh International Airport and downtown prior to extending Interstate 376.
The routes between Pittsburgh International Airport and downtown

Another reason I have heard is that it will be easier for travelers leaving the airport to get to downtown.  To leave the airport, you have two options: Beaver/Moon and Pittsburgh.  Following the signs for “Pittsburgh,” and not taking any exits, you wind up in downtown no matter the route number(s).

Instead of money replacing all of the signage for extending Interstate 376, I’d rather it go other places. Fixing some of the 47% of structurally deficient bridges across the state is a start.  Or else we’ll see more failures such as the Lake View Drive overpass on Interstate 70, and next time, the outcome might be worse.

Renaming of Interstate 376 Corridor a Step Closer – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

 
Categories
News

E-ZPass Finally Coming to Extensions

E-ZPass appeared on the Pennsylvania Turnpike System six years ago, and it’s finally coming to the extensions in the Pittsburgh area.  In addition, the current coin-drop machines will be upgraded to ones similar to those at the Jefferson Hills Toll Plaza on PA Turnpike 43 (Mon-Fayette Expressway).

PA Turnpike 66 toll plaza in Westmoreland County currently without E-ZPass capabilities.
PA Turnpike 66 toll plaza in Westmoreland County between Exit 4 and Exit 6

About time, as the addition of E-ZPass is long over due! A timetable with implementation dates had been placed on the Toll Highways page, but it was removed because I grew tired of changing it with a new updated schedule that never seemed to pan out.  If only it was active on PA Turnpike 43 when I drove that expressway almost on a daily basis.  I can’t tell you how many times I ended up behind someone in the exact change lane paying their toll in pennies!  Not to mention the one night I found a toll collector asleep, leaning out of the booth.

As for the coin-drop machines, I also say about time!  The early models are very temperamental and will sometimes not register your payment.  Even when 66 opened in 1993, that summer I had a problem with one at its mainline toll plaza.  The worst was once at the California Toll Plaza on Turnpike 43.  I pulled into a lane and saw a worker standing at the machine.  I threw my two quarters into the basket, the traffic signal turned green, and everything seemed fine. Then, WHAM, the gate came crashing down.  Luckily, I hadn’t started yet or I would have had a horizontal crease across my hood.  All the worker said was “whoops!”  Yeah, that’d have been a big whoops the Turnpike Commission would have been paying to fix.

The only expressway not included in the expansion of E-ZPass is the aforementioned PA Turnpike 43 (Mon-Fayette Expressway).  It is easy to see why, since right now it is a disjointed expressway with less traffic than the others.

E-ZPass, Other Enhancements Coming This Year to Greensburg and Beaver Valley Expressways – Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission

 

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