HONESDALE – Representatives from the PA Department of Transportation and consultants working with the agency on the new PennDOT Connects initiative recently held an outreach meeting at the Wayne County Park Street Complex.
PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards drew on her background as both a township supervisor and a county commissioner in setting out the mission for the new initiative. In a recorded message, the secretary talked about creating a better understanding between planners and transportation engineers, and creating the tools and technology to support them.
START TALKING EARLIER
One major element of PennDOT Connects is the effort to bring local officials into the process from the very earliest stages of project development. District 4 Transportation Planning Supervisor Steve Fisher said the program got underway July 1, 2016 and projects undertaken since then have included outreach to local municipalities to discuss projects before the design work even begins.
During these meetings, officials review a checklist of possible concerns, including issues like impending utility work, impacts on special events, community connections and emergency services. Fisher said this information is passed on to the appropriate staff members so it can be taken into consideration during the design phase.
In the past, these potential problems would often come to light at the public meetings, which are held once projects are nearly ready to get started.
Fisher gave one example of a bridge replacement project in Lackawanna County. He said by talking with local officials before the design phase began, PennDOT learned about significant interruption the project would cause. In light of those issues, the engineers found a way to rehabilitate the structure and maintain this important pedestrian connection in the community.
Consultant Paul Caulfield emphasized PennDOT Connects won’t replace the traditional public meeting, it just adds another opportunity for local collaboration.
TRAINING & TECHNICAL SUPPORT
PennDOT Connects also seeks to better equip local governments in their transportation planning and maintenance efforts. Caulfield said the initiative will be building on the successful existing state-local partnership of the Local Transportation Assistance (LTAP) program, administered by the PA State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS).
In fact, PSATS won the contract to administer the training and consulting arm of the new initiative, which includes recorded online training courses and technical assistance on specific topics as well as one-on-one assistance from experts in a variety of transportation fields via phone, email or even onsite.
Online resources are already available on topics like Community Character, Protecting Natural Resources, Stormwater Management, Economic Development and more. The agency also launched a PennDOT Connects newsletter called “Transform”. All these resources are available through the online support hub.
The outreach programs, held throughout the state, also collected information on potential training topics and other areas where expert advice would be helpful to township and borough officials. Officials from Mount Pleasant Township and Honesdale Borough, Delaware Township in Pike County and representatives of the two county planning departments attended the March 26 session