PennDOT to involve municipalities

Initiative designed to ensure local officials get input into projects

In years past, officials at various local agencies would occasionally speak about PennDOT and the highways for which the department is responsible in a way that indicated the local officials felt they had little control over how the state Department of Transportation operated.

Dismay over the scarcity of pedestrian accommodations along Pleasant Valley Boulevard and Plank Road was one bugaboo — especially for economic development types promoting quality-of-life changes to retain and attract young professionals.

A year-old PennDOT initiative is designed to decelerate those kinds of concerns.

PennDOT Connects ensures that local officials get a chance to influence projects in their territories early in planning, according to Vince Greenland, assistant District 9 executive for construction, speaking after a recent meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which oversees transportation budgeting for Blair County.

District 9 has tried to engage municipalities early for several years, but PennDOT Connects, a project of state Transportation Secretary Leslie Richards, has formalized the practice, according to Greenland.

In the past, municipalities have come to PennDOT when project planning was far advanced and asked for adjustments, which the department sometimes couldn’t provide — or if it did, only at much higher cost than if it had known earlier, he said.

The early planning has begun to make a difference in Pleasant Valley.

It shows in the recent replacement of the Union Avenue bridge over Mill Run, a project that included sidewalks, a crosswalk and pedestrian signals on the boulevard nearby, according to Greenland and Richards, writing last year for the PennDOT website.

It also shows in recent work at 17th Street and Pleasant Valley, which included sidewalks on 17th and crosswalks on the boulevard, Greenland said.

Officials from both the city and Logan Township were involved in the decision to include the pedestrian accommodations, Greenland said.

Municipal officials were also involved in a project to add signals near the Horseshoe Curve and sidewalks in a planned project for North Juniata Street between the borough and Legion Park, Greenland said.

“In the past, we’d get through a good chunk of design for a project and something would come up when talking to our partners — the township wants a pedestrian walkway or new street lights — and it could ultimately affect our project delivery,” Richards stated in the article. “With PennDOT Connects, we should avoid some of those surprises.”

PennDOT has traditionally done a good job involving municipal officials, according to Nate Kissell, the city public works director.

At the meeting, the MPO agreed to post its $48-million, four-year Transportation Improvement Plan for public comment.

Highlights include:

n Signal coordination improvements to the Route 764 corridor between Lloyd and 31st streets in the city, including possible fixes for congestion at Seventh Street, Greenland said.

n A study to determine what can be done to improve the Route 36 corridor from Leamersville through McKee Gap to Roaring Spring, a stretch where there are safety issues, according to Greenland.

TIPs are funded with a combination of state and federal money, with the state money comprising a larger share.

The TIP is renewed every two years.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.