Transportation Improvements Underway, But New Funding Needed

I had the pleasure of addressing the Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce today about the state of Westmoreland. My colleagues and I shared the stage and each centered on a particular topic that would be of interest to their members; mine being transportation. I wanted to share my comments in their entirety here with everyone…

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This afternoon I will focus my remarks on transportation, a topic that is of vital importance to everyone in this room, our communities, our businesses and our quality of life.

But, first, I want to thank the Chamber of Commerce and its members for this opportunity. It’s important…and I hope enlightening…for all of you to hear directly from all of us. Thanks to everyone for attending. And I give great credit to Chad Amond for his efforts to lead an already outstanding organization to new levels.

Thanks, too, to my colleague, Commissioner Courtney, who through his relationship with the Chamber was no doubt instrumental in setting this up today. Unfortunately in this business too often all you read about is our differences, but I am here today to tell you it’s been refreshing to work with Tyler, and I look forward to working more closely together this year and beyond.

One of those areas we’ve been working on together is transportation…the focus of my portion of our presentation today. Given the limited amount of time I have, I want to concentrate on a few key projects underway in central Westmoreland County, provide you an update on their progress, as well as the need to address funding solutions.

First some projects…

We all can appreciate the significance of Route 30 – I’ve heard it referred to as Westmoreland County’s “Main Street” – and so we all can appreciate the traffic headaches as well. A long-awaited project is underway to help alleviate congestion from the Toll 66 interchange west through Jeannette to the West Penn Power facility. The project will widen the road, add a turning lane and enhance signals through this tough stretch – not only to lessen traffic backups, but also make it much safer. Construction is set to begin this spring and be done by year’s end.

Another heavily congested and dangerous area we all know well is nearing final design – that’s the Interstate 70 interchange in New Stanton. The $48 million project will reconstruct a modern interchange in the borough just west of the current one. Utility work and right-of-way acquisitions are scheduled to begin this year with construction beginning in 2015. This work comes on the heels of the recent completion of the Interstate 70 interchange at Smithton just a few miles down the highway. This aged interstate is finally getting some much needed attention.

Construction of a new $27 million bridge in Derry Borough that will carry Route 217 over the Norfolk Southern Railroad will start soon. In fact, just last night PennDOT publicly displayed the designs for residents of the community. This project will replace a dilapidated bridge and will improve both safety and traffic flow, but it also will provide better access to the county’s Porcelain Park redevelopment effort – the largest brownfield redevelopment project underway in the county today.

Elsewhere, smaller, yet still important projects are taking shape…
– Construction on the long-overdue Harrison City/Export Road and Route 130 interchange in Harrison City will begin next year.
– In 2015 work will start on traffic signal upgrades at 11 intersections beginning in downtown Greensburg and following Pittsburgh Street to Route 130 in Hempfield.
– And we are working with PennDOT and our Transit Authority to finalize a new and permanent Park-and-Ride facility in North Huntingdon.

The major transportation project we’ve been chasing for years, however, remains elusive – that’s the Laurel Valley Connector. You all no doubt know it well. It will improve 981 beginning near the county airport to a new Turnpike slip-ramp interchange at Route 119 in Mount Pleasant. I’ll spare you the long history…you probably know it. But in all that time its importance hasn’t been diminished. In fact, it’s only grown. Our airport is experiencing record passenger numbers. Our industrial park in Unity is thriving, with plans to expand. And traffic aggravation on Route 30 – which the project will help alleviate – is getting worse and worse. We need to get this done. And we need your help.

A few weeks back the three of us joined state and local officials to meet with the PennDOT secretary to discuss the status of this roughly $70 million project. He was refreshingly candid. He made it abundantly clear that this project will not – and cannot – get done without additional monies for transportation.

The governor said recently that he will finally propose a transportation funding strategy this legislative session based on the findings of his own Transportation Funding Advisory Commission. It includes a myriad of proposals to raise additional revenue. And frankly no one knows what the final funding formula will look like. But there is no debating we have to do something about transportation funding. We cannot continue to muddle along, discuss what needs done and end up doing nothing about the Laurel Connector and others. Now is the time.

Transportation projects have long enjoyed widespread bipartisan support. And we Commissioners demonstrated our unity in that effort just this morning by passing a resolution I authored in support of new funding solutions for transportation. It is available on the county’s website for you to read, and hopefully share – and write your own. We all need to be in on this effort. Because it is so important to all of us.

Today’s meeting is a nice start to what I hope will be a successful effort to improve the way we fund transportation in Pennsylvania…to finish the work we’ve started and the work that still needs done.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to enlist your help today. And thanks for all that you do for Westmoreland County.