PennDOT launches public outreach for 2017 12-Year Program

PennDOT is kicking off its biannual update to its Twelve Year Program, which is not to be confused with a twelve-step program. While the TYP and the similarly named, much more famous AA program are both long, sometimes painful journeys full of introspection requiring frank honesty that hopefully lead to long-term growth, PennDOT’s program is about infrastructure spending, not addition, so, please, try to keep them straight. Remember: AA seeks public forgiveness, PennDOT seeks public feedback.

And the public can provide that feedback following an interactive online public meeting with acting PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards this Thursday at 7 P.M.. The public must register for the live webcast at TalkPATransportation.com. Registration is free, and questions can be submitted in advance to ra-penndotstc@pa.gov.  

The webcast marks the opening of the TYP survey, which allows PennDOT’s State Transportation Commission to solicit feedback from residents on transportation infrastructure funding priorities across the Commonwealth.

The webcast will be recorded and posted to the State Transportation Commission website, in case you miss it or simply want to watch it over and over again (who am I to judge?) and the survey will remain open until May 29th.

WHAT IS TYP?

If you’re like me, when you see “TYP” you think: “Hey, that’s PYT backwards, like it’s in a mirror!” And you’re suddenly trying to find a mash-up of Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” and “Man in the Mirror” online only to find out that, somehow, no one has thought of doing this yet.

But if you’re like me, you’re way off about TYP, and need to read the ensuing paragraphs explaining the program, and should really think through how terrible a party song would mesh with a gospel-inspired ballad about introspection.

The TYP essentially allocates funds for all types of transportation infrastructure improvement projects: highway and bridges repairs, public transit vehicle purchases, railroad signal upgrades, new bicycle trails, etc.

The State Transportation Commission asks the public’s help figure out where to prioritize limited infrastructure spending money. The 2015 TYP allocated 55 percent of its funds to highways and bridges, 41 percent to public transit, 2 percent to aviation and 1 percent each to rail freight and “multimodal” projects, which usually refers to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure improvements like trails.

PennDOT is currently operating under its 2015 TYP, which, naturally, started on October 1, 2014 (it’s based off of federal fiscal years, which do not match the calendar year due to arcane reasons related to passing budgets). But it’s already time to start thinking about the fiscal year 2017 update.

Update is the key word here, says PennDOT Deputy Secretary Jim Ritzman. “It’s a twelve year plan,” said Ritzman. “If you take care of two years of projects, you [still] have the next ten years planned on top of that. It’s about making adjustments.”

The last update was a bit more exciting than some of the previous programs, thanks to the passage of Act 89 in 2013, which dramatically increased state transportation funding. That allowed PennDOT to move up construction on hundreds of major maintenance and infrastructure upgrade projects and add new projects as well. Still, even for that year, most of the work was tweaking the massive project list to allow for adjustments to work schedules or updates to cost estimates from the previous TYP.

The 2017 TYP could have some massive funding changes to deal with, too, but not for any good reasons: PennDOT is looking on anxiously as Congress mulls proposals to revive revenues for the national Highway Trust Fund. Ritzman noted that federal funds make up $1.6 billion of the $4.4 billion PennDOT plans on spending this year on highway and bridge capital projects.

Assuming the federal government doesn’t allow the trust fund to go dry – the last funding extension, MAP-21, expires May 31 – the 2017 TYP will plan on spending over $60 billion during the upcoming twelve year period.

The first four years of the twelve-year program help guide municipal planning organizations like the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission update their regional Transportation Improvement Program. Combined, the 24 TIPs across the Commonwealth create the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program. In order for a transportation project to qualify for federal funding, it needs to be in a regional TIP or the STIP, and nearly every large transportation infrastructure projects in Pennsylvania use some federal funding.

If you want to do your homework before the webcast, or are simply curious, Ritzman recommends reading the 2015 Transportation Performance Report

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