WILKES-BARRE — How would you spend $60 million a year on roads and bridges in Northeastern Pennsylvania?
Fortunately, most of us don’t have to make the tough decisions on when the hundreds of roads and bridges in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton Metropolitan Area get paved, repaired or replaced while staying within that budget.
That’s the job of the members of the Lackawanna/Luzerne Metropolitan Planning Organization, and one of the MPO’s committees spent the summer updating the long-range transportation plan for the two counties.
But now that the MPO has prioritized transportation projects for the area for the next 20 years, you can take a look at the draft list of projects and the proposed plan itself and offer your input.
For example, should money be pumped into extending the Hazleton Beltway from Route 93 to Route 424 over the next seven years while the reconstruction of the Sans Souci Parkway from Loomis Street to Casey Avenue is put off until sometime between 2027 and 2040?
Getting input from the public on such issues was the purpose of a public meeting Wednesday at the Luzerne County Courthouse.
Representatives from the Lackawanna/Luzerne MPO and the MPO’s project consultant, McCormick Taylor, had hard copies of the prioritized project list and long-range plan drafts through which attendees could browse, ask questions about and offer comment on.
Nancy Snee, Luzerne County’s interim director of planning and a member of the MPO, said the federal government requires MPOs to update their long-range transportation plans every four to five years. Also updated as required were the public participation plan, the Title VI non-discrimination plan and a plan to ensure people with limited English proficiency are treated fairly in the planning process, she said.
McCormick Taylor environmental planner Michelle Goddard provided an overview of the latter three plan updates, and McCormick Taylor traffic engineer Cindy McCormick explained the transportation planning and funding processes.
Steve Pitoniak, Lackawanna County’s transportation planning manager and a member of the MPO, said not knowing what funding will be available or what actual project costs will be in 20 years make the planning process difficult.
He also noted that the federal government requires 80 percent of the funding to be used for maintenance and preservation of existing transportation infrastructure.
Pitoniak said the plan covers all transportation modes, including highway/bridge, rail, air and pedestrian. The 20-year plan, he said, is used by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to develop a 12-year project plan, which PennDOT breaks down further into a four-year Transportation Improvement Program.
Pitoniak said the plan is still “a work in progress, and this is the first stage — getting public comment.” The public has until Nov. 14 to review the plan and submit comment. The plan will then be revised based on input. A final plan must be adopted by June 2016.
The plans are available online and hard copies are available at several locations throughout the two counties. Surveys are also available online and at the same locations throughout the counties.
Kingston resident Brian Shiner referred to a 2009-2014 survey on congested corridors that set a high priority for signal timing and lane configuration changes along South River Street in Wilkes-Barre, but data showed only two fatal accidents and two other accidents along the street in a five-year period.
“And that would substantiate the expense of all these millions of dollars to calm the traffic on that road? It’s amazing — your own data says don’t do it, but yet we have bridges that are falling apart,” Shiner said.
Shiner also took issue with the meeting not being advertised with a legal ad in a newspaper, calling Wednesday’s meeting a violation of the state Sunshine Act.
Snee said the meeting was advertised in a display ad in the paper because MPO members believed most people don’t read legal ads and more people would see the ad if it were in a more widely read area of a newspaper. They determined the meeting did not require legal advertising because the MPO was not deliberating at the meeting.