PennDOT District 6-0 Assistant District Executive, Lou Belmonte, presented to the Chester County Planning Commission Board at the monthly meeting held on December 11th. Lou offered an overview of how District 6-0 functions within the overall statewide PennDOT system as well as how District 6-0 interacts with Chester County and Planning Commission staff.
Serving Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties, District 6-0 is the busiest of the eleven PennDOT districts statewide. District 6-0 has averaged $536M in annual lettings (construction projects) between 2012 and 2016, while the next closest District 11-0 (Pittsburgh area) averaged less than $300M. District 6-0 is also the only district with a separate department dedicated to Traffic Operations which Lou manages.
Lou touched upon the state of transportation funding and how the need for new improvements exceeds the available funding, even after the passage of Act 89. While emphasis on investment in bridge repair over the last five years has helped to improve bridge conditions, it has essentially come at the cost of roadway pavement conditions, which have trended in the opposite direction without sufficient funding. There will also be a major shift in regional funding as money previously dedicated to the national highway system and other areas is being diverted to interstate highways since federal funding has not been able to keep up with the deteriorating roadway conditions on the region’s interstates, which include I-76, I-95 and others.
Within Lou’s Traffic Operations department, there are three divisions: Traffic Engineering and Safety, managed by Ashwin Patel, P.E.; Transportation Services, managed by Francis Hanney, P.E.; and, Traffic Operations, managed by Emmanuel Anastasiadis.
Ashwin’s Traffic Engineering and Safety Division is responsible for traffic signals and safety. This work includes implementation of the ‘Green Light Go’ initiative, which in addition to being a municipal grant program intended to improve their own signals, is also a program intended to enhance traffic signal coordination and operations along “super-critical corridors” by having PennDOT take over ownership, maintenance and operational responsibilities across multi-jurisdictional boundaries, a departure from the norm where each municipality is responsible for signal ownership and maintenance. Another program in Ashwin’s shop is implementation of the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP), which is the fund primarily used for the construction of roundabouts in the county. One such current HSIP Funded project is the proposed SR 82/Reeceville Road roundabout currently in design for West Brandywine Township.
Fran Hanney’s Transportation Services Division reviews and issues all Highway Occupancy Permits (HOP’s) in the district and reviews and approves all ADA ramp designs and designs to be implemented under the region’s Bicycle Friendly Resurfacing Program. Between 2009 and 2016, District 6-0 has reviewed and constructed nearly 19,000 ADA curb ramps. The Bicycle Friendly Resurfacing Program works in partnership with both DVRPC and Chester County Planning to identify low cost bicycle facility implementation (bike lanes, shared roadways, road diets, etc.) through the resurfacing program. The Transportation Services Division provides limited design services to ensure that planned bicycle facility improvements meet approved safety standards before they are installed through the resurfacing program. Now that the former Bicycle Occupancy Permit (BOP) requirement that municipalities be responsible for plowing has been eliminated, there are more opportunities and therefore greater willingness by municipalities to agree to maintain the pavement markings and signage associated with these improvements.
The Traffic Operations Division, led by Manny Anastasiadis, is in charge of traffic control and the rollout of active traffic management in the region. Active traffic management can be described as the use of advanced technologies and cooperative strategies to improve safety and mitigate roadway congestion. These new technologies include installation of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) devices such as overhead cameras and dynamic message boards and the employment of variable speed limits and queue detection, adaptive ramp metering, hard shoulder running /FLEX lanes and other multimodal improvements. Projects being considered for these new elements include the Schuylkill Expressway (I-76), the Blue Route (I-476), and the US 30 Coatesville-Downingtown Bypass.
Lou wrapped up his presentation with an overview of District 6-0’s plans for the Regional Traffic management Center (RTMC). The RTMC will be constructed right next to the existing District 6-0 office in King of Prussia and will be a significant upgrade over their existing center. The RTMC will tie in all of the ITS devices and be a much more useful venue in the management of traffic operations in the wake of emergency situations, weather event, and other large scale events that impact traffic movements such as the Papal visit, victory parades, etc.
Chester County Planning Commission Executive Director Brian O’Leary thanked Lou and PennDOT for being “a great partner” to the county, working together on several issues including the funding challenge, the resurfacing program and the recent analysis of congestion improvements in US 202 section 100.