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News

Winter Storm Wreaks Havoc

From North to South and East to West, there was no hiding from the wrath of Mother Nature the past two days.  Whatever your mode of transportation was, it was either slowed or outright stopped as the first major storm of 2007 made its trek towards the Atlantic.  The worst of the storm hit the eastern side of the state. Interstate 78 was at a stand-still for most of Valentine’s Day. However, all parts of Pennsylvania felt the brunt of this storm. The following is a round-up of road-related stories from all points inside the Keystone State when a winter storm wreaks havoc.

Northwest
Keeping Snow Away from the Street – WICU-TV Erie
Snowy Side Streets Trap Drivers, Towing Warning – WJET-TV Erie

Northeast
Roads Called “Horrible” – WNEP-TV Scranton
Interstates Closed for Icy Conditions – WNEP-TV Scranton
Storm Brings Mixed Bag – Williamsport Sun-Gazette

Southeast
Colossal Traffic Mess Strands Motorists For Hours – KYW-TV Philadelphia
Logjam Gone, But I-78 Closed – WPVI-TV Philadelphia
Hundreds Stranded on Interstate 78 – WHTM-TV Harrisburg

Southwest
Valentine’s Day Storm Causes Treacherous Commute – WTAE-TV Pittsburgh
Local Woman’s Frightening Ordeal On I-78 Ends – KDKA-TV Pittsburgh
Crash in Snow Causes I-79 Closure – WPXI-TV Pittsburgh
Rendell Declares State of Emergency – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The snow cover after a winter storm wreaks havoc in 2007.
Snow cover across the state (NOAA)

Where I live east of Pittsburgh, or “ice-burgh” as it was referred to in the media, we received about seven inches. It would have been more if the precipitation did not turn from snow to freezing rain through Wednesday morning.  When I checked my e-mail this morning, there were almost 130 travel bulletins from the PTC and PennDOT!  Public transportation was not a choice either as the subway, also known as the “T,” was not running through the South Hills. The reason for the closure of the subway was due to ice on the overhead wires.

This winter storm is now winding down. Needless to say this will not be the last time a winter storm wreaks havoc.

 
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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

 
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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

 
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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 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
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
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

 
Categories
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
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

 
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