Archive | Transportation

Funding Increase for PennDot Projects

Recent funding legislation will significantly increase PennDOT projects in the Allentown area as discussed below, and statewide.

Funding puts PennDOT projects back in gear


By Dan Hartzell, Of The Morning Call

Plans for widening Route 22 through the heart of the Lehigh Valley and other long-term transportation projects are back in gear, regional planners said Monday, thanks to last year’s passage of a funding bill in Harrisburg. Widening 22 between 15th Street and Airport Road has been an on-again, off-again proposition for years, but the anticipated $2.3 billion in new annual state road funding by 2017 gives the project and smaller ones across the Valley renewed impetus. The latest Route 22 estimate puts its widening cost at $183 million.

New items on a local to-do list include resurfacing Route 33 between Interstate 78 and Wind Gap for $85 million; reconstructing the Route 309/Tilghman Street intersection for $48.5 million; rehabbing Bethlehem’s Hill-to-Hill Bridge for $38 million; and resurfacing Route 22 from 15th Street west to I-78, and from Route 191 east to the Easton area 25th Street exit. No start date has been established for any of the projects, which are expected to unfold over a 12-year period from 2015 to 2026.

“We’ll start to lay out the phasing of projects” in the months and years ahead, depending on the availability of funding, said Mike Rebert, district executive for PennDOT’s Allentown-based District 5. Projects selected for a 12-year plan are moved to four-year Transportation Improvement Programs, putting them closer to a start date. The TIPs are adjusted every other year as new information becomes available. More projects could be added to the hopper. A shortage of state money had put many programs on hold. No longer.

“This is the first time in I don’t know how many years that we’re able to talk about new projects” after a chronic shortage of new transportation revenue, said Larry Shifflet, of PennDOT’s central office in Harrisburg. “It allows us to advance things we’ve been planning for years,” Lehigh Valley Planning Commission Executive Director Becky Bradley said after Monday’s regional meeting.

After years of debate, a transportation funding bill passed the state House on Nov. 21. Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, was the only Lehigh Valley region House member to vote for it. Voting no were Democrats Daniel McNeill, Steve Samuelson and Robert Freeman, and Republicans Justin Simmons, Ryan Mackenzie, Julie Harhart, Gary Day, Marcia M. Hahn and Joe Emrick. The measure had passed the Senate the previous day, with Sens. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, and Bob Mensch, R-Berks, voting in favor, and Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, voting no. Gov. Tom Corbett signed it into law, providing billions in extra transportation spending through an increase in a per-gallon gasoline tax and other fee increases. Experts say pump prices could climb 28 cents by 2018 under the law. Foes expressed concern about that and about effects on consumers and the economy.

Some members of the Lehigh Valley Transportation Study — primarily municipal officials who advise PennDOT on roadwork needs within their municipalities to help the state prioritize the work — initially were reluctant to vote to approve the preliminary 12-year list out of concern their projects might be passed over. Rebert assured them PennDOT officials in Harrisburg hope to secure general approvals of “the direction we’re going” at the regional level to keep plans advancing. Though details may change as the years progress, state officials are confident that projects on the TIPs list will go forward.

Philadelphia Airport Expansion

The following is an update concerning the Philadelphia International Airport plan to expand in Philadelphia and neighboring Tinicum Township. I have been advising Tinicum Township owners of the lack of Philadelphia eminent domain power outside of Philadelphia.

The Airport Enhancement Program was approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) at the end of 2010.  Since then, the Airport expansion has been delayed by court challenges and significant opposition. Tinicum Township and a strong community group, Residents Against Airport Expansion in Delco, have effectively fought expansion into Tinicum Township, where the City of Philadelphia does not have the power of eminent domain.  These efforts may force an expansion redesign.  Such a potential redesign was recognized in the FAA Order approving the project. The more significant challenge to the project has been presented by the airlines, led by the largest airline of the Airport, US Airways. The airlines could be forced to pay most of the estimated $6.4 billion bill.  The airlines have strenuously been negotiating against the project.  Those negotiations have broken down, as reflected in public statements recently issued.

The airlines have complained about the cost and Rhett Workman, a US Airways spokesperson, has pointed out that the ground construction would not resolve the fundamental problem of air space congestion.  In contrast, Rina Coulter, the Philadelphia deputy mayor for transportation, stated the Airport is moving forward and will build an additional runway.  The City indicated that if the airlines fail to agree, the City would pass an Ordinance, by July, to allow it to move forward.

I expect that the Airport, after some further delay, will proceed with a modified expansion project.  That project could involve the acquisition of the same or even more Philadelphia properties.  Property owners should be fully aware of their property rights to combat deceptive negotiation practices.

“Cost to Cure”

The firm’s predecessor conducted a  recent eminent domain trial in Carlisle, Pennsylvania that concluded with a verdict of $250,000 for the property owner. PennDOT had offered $8,800. The condemnor presented evidence of a “cost to cure”, some of the condemnation of 15 parking spaces. Our firm presented evidence that the “cure” presented by the condemnor did not comply with the zoning ordinance.