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Safety, funding measures top 2019 highway issues

December 19, 2019

In our final edition of E-motion for 2019, we reflect on the public policy highlights of this year.

At the top of the list was the enactment of the automated speed enforcement measure. The pilot program began in the fall with a “pre-enforcement testing period.” Beginning next month, motorists who drive through work zones at more than 10 mph over the speed limit will begin receiving citations after a first-offense warning. The initial fine will be $75, increasing to $150 for subsequent violations.

Automated speed enforcement tops the list because, as much as we talk about highway funding, work zone safety is and always has been the construction industry’s highest priority. Data show that Maryland’s program, which has been in place for several years, has reduced excessive speeding to less than 1 percent of drivers after beginning at 7 percent.

There also were positive developments on the funding front. As diversions from the Motor License Fund continue to be rolled back by 4 percent a year, legislation in the Senate would accelerate the rollback, making more money available for highway work. A House Republican task force also recommended accelerating the rollback, so it appears that the idea has a good chance of advancing in the second half of the current legislative session.

Additionally, the House task force recommended expanding public-private partnership opportunities, streamlining permitting processes, changing the way large highway projects are bid out, giving local governments the ability to impose additional fees and creating county infrastructure banks. We expect that those recommendations will be transformed into legislation early next year.

As we bid farewell to 2019, we leave you with best wishes for the holidays and hope you have a prosperous and healthy New Year. We’ll keep you posted as we turn the page to 2020.

 

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Task force unveils transportation funding proposals

December 4, 2019

A PA House Republican task force whose mission was to address transportation funding needs has finished its assignment and presented its report.

The task force, chaired by Rep. Martina White of Philadelphia, made several recommendations, beginning with lessening or halting revenue diversions from the Motor License Fund, the constitutionally protected repository for fuel taxes and license and registration fees.

As we have noted many times, $9 billion has been diverted from that fund since 2002. Nearly half of that diversion has occurred since 2012-13, including more than $700 million in this fiscal year.

Pennsylvania’s tax rate is approximately 58 cents per gallon – now second-highest in the country – and more than a quarter of that is diverted for things other than highway construction. The task force recommended that the planned rollback of diversions be accelerated from the current 4 percent annually to 8 percent.

The task force also recommended expanding public-private partnership opportunities, streamlining permitting processes, changing the way large highway projects are bid out, giving local governments the ability to impose additional fees and creating county infrastructure banks.

While the task force’s recommendations could help in the short term – say, three to five years – we have yet to establish a long-term vision for how the ideal a transportation infrastructure could evolve beyond that.

For transportation advocates, the 43-page report is worth a read. You’ll find it at this link.

 

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Automated speed enforcement cameras are up and running

November 13, 2019

The 60-day clock has begun for the “pre-enforcement testing period” of automated speed cameras in Pennsylvania highway work zones. That means fines for traveling more than 10 miles per hour over the speed limit could begin to be levied as soon as mid-January.

At present, there are two speed cameras in operation. One is on I-78 between mile markers 35 and 43, and the other on I-476 between mile markers 31 and 38.

As is the case in Maryland, the Commonwealth will let you know exactly where they are deployed. All one needs to do is visit the work zone cameras website, conveniently found at workzonecameras.penndot.gov. Additionally, there will be two warning signs in advance of any automated work zone.

Once enforcement begins, owners of offending vehicles will receive a violation notice in the mail. A first offense will result in a warning, a second offense a $75 fine and subsequent offenses fines of $150. There will be no points assessed on drivers’ licenses.

Maryland’s automated speed enforcement program has been in place for several years and has proven to be successful in encouraging motorists to slow down. When the program began, 7 percent of drivers were in violation. Today, the violation rate has dropped to less than 1 percent.

“While the new law focuses on active work zones, where workers are present, the traveling public can also benefit from reducing speeds in work zones,” said PHIA Managing Director Jason Wagner. “According to the Federal Highway Administration, nearly 80 percent of victims of work-zone fatalities are drivers or passengers.”

 

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PHIA holds annual conference

October 18, 2019

This week PHIA held its annual Transportation Conference and Luncheon in Harrisburg.

The presentations featured:

  • PA Turnpike CEO Mark Compton with an update on various toll road projects.
  • Republican and Democratic House Transportation Chairs Tim Hennessey and Mike Carroll fielding a variety of transportation policy questions.
  • Policy Directors Jessica Shirley and Natasha Fackler of the Department of Environmental Protection and PennDOT, respectively, with a briefing on Pennsylvania’s Transportation Climate Initiative.
  • ARTBA’s Senior VP Dean Franks with a federal funding update.
  • Transportation Advisory Committee Member and PHIA Board Member Mark Murawski discussing a future TAC study on a local bridge investment plan.
  • PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards with an update on an array of the department’s latest initiatives and impending funding challenges.

The lunch was capped off with remarks from Republican House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler providing the House leadership’s views on transportation matters and other issues of importance. He said reaching out to local legislators and offering to serve as their go-to subject matter experts on transportation issues would help the industry and lawmakers alike.

A big thanks to the presenters and attendees from PHIA President Jamie Van Buren and Managing Director Jason Wagner. We received positive feedback on the morning program and luncheon and look forward to another successful conference next year.

 

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Pa. autonomous vehicle team receives $8.4 million grant for work-zone study

October 3, 2019

A team consisting of Carnegie Mellon and Penn State universities, along with PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Turnpike, has received an $8.4 million grant for testing and evaluation of integrating autonomous driving systems in work zones.

The grant, from the U.S. Department of Transportation, is the first of its kind in the U.S. It will enable the team to study whether improved connectivity, enhanced visibility and high definition mapping will help autonomous vehicles travel more safely through work zones.

While autonomous vehicles have made significant progress in their navigational capabilities, work zones continue to be more of a challenge, primarily because work zone cues are designed for human drivers.

“Given Pennsylvania’s leadership in advancing autonomous vehicle technology, it’s not surprising that this team received a grant for this project,” said PHIA Managing Director Jason Wagner.

An article detailing the grant award can be found at this link.