No more highways?
Pennsylvania hearing outlines transportation crisis
At a hearing to gather public input regarding what state officials have termed Pennsylvania’s transportation crisis, building more highways was the least popular solution.
Directors of mass transit systems pleaded for more money, and some Pennsylvanians suggested building more roads would not solve the transportation crisis, The Reading Eagle reported Tuesday.
Dr. Paul Simpson, a State College physician, said the transportation funding crisis coincides with crises concerning obesity, traffic congestion, pollution and loss of forests and open land.
Paying to build and maintain new and bigger roads helped cause the transportation funding crisis, Simpson said.
Transportation officials should now focus on bicycling and pedestrian programs, he said.
“Stop planning and building new roads,” Simpson told more than 100 state residents and transportation officials at the hearing called by the state Transportation Funding and Reform Commission.
A handful of construction contractors attended the hearing in Centre County to counter that transportation construction supplies thousands of jobs and better highways and bridges that are vital to the economy.
The commission completed its statewide tour on Monday in Harrisburg after seeking public input to include in a report to be issued November 15.
Making the Pennsylvania DOT, construction contractors and public transit systems more efficient could save $170 million per year, but that’s not enough to stave off a financial crisis, said state Transportation Secretary Allen D. Biehler, commission chairman.
“We are convinced there is a problem,” Biehler said.
The commission is considering several recommendations that range from spending several hundred million to more than $2 billion more per year on transportation.
Annual state and federal funding for Pennsylvania transportation totals more than $6 billion.
Pennsylvanians unwilling to pay for better roads and public transit have their priorities wrong, testified Eric Wolf, manager of Altoona’s public transit system in Blair County.
People seem willing to pay more for gasoline, which helps foreign oil-producing nations, but seem unwilling to pay more to improve their own transportation system, Wolf said.
Improving transportation doesn’t have to mean constructing more highways, said John Shoemaker, a Mifflin County mechanical engineer and farmer.
“This system puts more land under concrete than any of the alternatives,” Shoemaker said.
“We must learn to do more with the roads we already have. “Instead of using my money to build highways that will be overloaded in 10 years, use it to promote public transportation. We own our transportation system. It does not own us. It should not lead an assault on our society, our land and our senses,” he said.
‘Rhody’ to get commuter rail grant
Rhode Island is going to receive $3.5 million in federal money to buy five new coaches as part of plans to expand commuter rail services in Rhode Island.
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said he secured the money as part of the South County Commuter Rail project, which will extend Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s services to communities south of Providence.
Two new commuter rail stations are being planned, one near T.F. Green Airport in Warwick and one in North Kingstown at Wickford Jct.
Transportation officials say they expect the $225 million project to connect Boston and South County communities in 2008.
Engineer sues railroads for mesothelioma
Jacob Borntreger filed a Federal Employer's Liability Act (FELA) suit against Norfolk Southern Ry. and Illinois Central Railroad in Madison County, Ill. Circuit Court Sept. 13, alleging he had extensive exposure to asbestos during his career in Madison County.
Borntreger, a fireman and engineer for Norfolk from 1957-1986, claims he was exposed to and inhaled, ingested or otherwise absorbed asbestos and other chemicals which caused him to develop mesothelioma, according to Illinois legal journal The Madison-St. Clair Record’s Tuesday edition.
According to the complaint, Borntreger was employed with Illinois Central Railroad from 1950-1955.
He was diagnosed with his fatal disease on Dec. 9, 2005, the suit claims.
Borntreger claims the railroad companies failed to provide safe working conditions, failed to provide safe and adequate tools, failed to warn of the dangers of the asbestos and other chemicals and failed to comply with OSHA regulations.
According to the complaint, Borntreger has become obligated for medical expenses, suffered pain and has been impaired in his normal pursuits of life.
Amtrak okays a new Pennsylvania station
Plans for a long-delayed train station a Pennsylvania airport have picked up.
Amtrak has approved agreements giving Harrisburg International Airport HIA) clearance to seek more money to build a station. That approval was a crucial hurdle for the project to move forward, the Harrisburg Patriot News reported yesterday.
Two years ago, the Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority approved and sent to Amtrak seven agreements needed for the station.
On Monday, authority board chairman John Ward told a state transportation panel that he expected to receive approval this week, and Amtrak spokeswoman Tracy Connell confirmed Tuesday that Amtrak is ready to move forward.
The cost has gone up by $4 million since 2004 because of higher prices for steel and other construction materials, Ward said. The airport couldn’t pursue money until Amtrak committed to the project, he said.
The airport has about half the $16.5 million cost now estimated, Ward said. The money includes $2 million from HIA and $4.5 million to be transferred to the station from Corridor One, the region’s proposed commuter rail system. Ward also is the president of the Modern Transit Partnership, the organization created to promote the commuter rail project. The airport hopes to tap government sources for the remaining money, Ward said.
“The commonwealth has developed some funding streams that weren’t available two years ago,” Ward said.
For example, Pennsylvania DOT spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick said the state has earmarked $8.7 million for the station, including $2.2 million from the federal government.
Amtrak is not providing money, Connell said.
The station would increase passenger use of the airport, especially by business travelers who would find it more convenient to take the train than a car to HIA, Ward said.
Business travelers are 70 percent of HIA passengers, Ward said. He added that he believes the station can lure more business travelers who now fly out of Philadelphia or Baltimore and Washington.
Ward said he hopes the station can be built by mid-2009, but that timetable is partly dependent on Amtrak.
“My biggest concern is how quick Amtrak will move on reviewing drawings and how we fit into their queue of getting things done,” he said.
Amtrak wants to close its station in Middletown when the new station opens, Connell said.