Planning for the last phases of the Marshalls Creek Bypass Project – which PennDOT now calls the “Marshalls Creek Traffic Relief Project” – continues. The project was put on hold in April due to funding issues. PennDOT held a public meeting in October to discuss the options for this phase of the project which can be viewed at www.marshallscreekbypass.com/index.cfm

PennDOT posted the following update on January 2, 2009 on its website:

Project Milestones Reached
• PennDOT submitted the Final Traffic Reports to FHWA on November 24, 2008.
• PennDOT submitted the Final EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) Re-Evaluation on November 26, 2008.
• The Kick-Off Meeting for Final Design was held on December 2, 2008.
• A meeting for the Section 106 Programmatic Agreement (environmental/historical compliance agreement) amendment was held on December 4, 2008, with FHWA, SHPO (State Historic Preservation Office), and PennDOT’s District and Central offices.
• The Phase III Archaeology report was delivered to FHWA and PHMC on December 30, 2008.
• A Right-of-Way review meeting was held at the PennDOT District Office on December 30, 2008.
• The Park-and-Ride project bids were reviewed and there is an apparent low bidder (Leeward Construction of Honesdale).
• Core borings have begun and will continue through February 1, 2009.

Upcoming Project Milestones
• The Environmental Review and Permitting will continue to be the challenge when trying to advance the Design/Build contract.
• Rettew Associates is scheduling a preliminary meeting with the permitting agencies for the “bypass” portion of the project.
• The Dewberry Team continues to advance the Final Design.
• The next Bi-Monthly Coordination Meeting is set for January 13, 2009.
• Park-and-Ride lot construction to begin in the spring and last one construction season.
 

One of the new buzzwords these days is “infrastructure.” It is likely that Congress will enact an ambitious economic stimulus package soon after President-elect Obama is inaugurated. One important component will be funds that will be spent on “infrastructure” including roads and bridges.

State officials are drawing up plans for bridge and road improvements in anticipation of funds from a federal economic stimulus package. PennDOT has stated that they are confident that Congress will make money available for replacements and repair projects early next year.

PennDOT has a number of projects that have been stalled due to lack of funding. It is very possible that PennDOT will use an influx of federal funds for these projects. It is unclear at this point the extent to which the projects will involve acquiring property through the power of eminent domain.

 

Montgomery County Pennsylvania’s planning commission is considering a transportation program that could cost $150 million. The Commission recently met to discuss a county program that could involve local governments and the private sector paying for an improvement program for local roadways and bridges. The Commissioners stated that there have been repeated complaints from residents and businesses about traffic congestion.

According to reports, Commissioners appear to be committed to some type of program and are considering a few options. The most popular option includes a 10-year program that would involve over 70 projects. This option would require voter approval to borrow $150 million. One project example cited was widening Route 309 in Montgomery Township to six lanes between Upper State and North Wales roads along with adding turn lanes and reconfiguring accesses to businesses.

The planning board members said they hope to finalize a recommendation at the November 12, 2008 meeting and submit a proposal to Commissioners by the end of the month.
 

Billionaire oilman T. Boon Pickens has been actively promoting his energy plan. Pickens wants the private sector to build wind farms from West Texas to North Dakota and solar farms in the Southwest. This plan also contemplates obtaining easements through eminent domain so transmission lines can take electricity generated by wind and solar to other parts of the country. He compares these easements to the creation of the Interstate Highway system in the 1950s.

Pickens believes his plan will help eliminate the dependency of the United States on foreign oil. However, neither presidential candidate has committed to his proposal.  Pickens has been meeting continuously with leaders from the government and private industry as well as the press to argue for his plan.
 

The Marshalls Creek Bypass Project continues to create controversy.  Last week, the Northeast Pennsylvania Alliance Board – known as NEPA – voted 13-7 during a special meeting to reject a four-year state transportation funding plan.  The biggest reason it rejected that plan was because it lacked funding for the Marshalls Creek Bypass.  According to press accounts, it is the first time in memory that officials recall the NEPA Board – or any other regional board that reviews transportation funding priorities in Pennsylvania – voting against adoption of a four-year funding plan.  As the Pocono Record reported, “This has not happened before," said NEPA Alliance CEO Jeffrey Box. "It’s reflective of the concern the NEPA Board has for numerous transportation projects in all our counties."  The Pocono Record article can be found at www.poconorecord.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article

PennDOT has been planning the Marshalls Creek Bypass Project for many years.  It is aimed to alleviate gridlock at the bottleneck of Routes 209 and 402 in Smithfield and Middle Smithfield townships, Monroe County Pennsylvania. It has been broken up into phases and has been put on hold while PennDOT redesigns part of the project.   Stay tuned.

 

Funds for widening Route 202 on the section of the highway that runs from near Route 29 to the Exton Bypass will be delayed until at least 2011. The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission voted 17-1 to wait until 2011 to begin releasing the PennDOT funds needed to widen this section of the highway. PennDOT’s current plans for this section – known as “Section 300 – anticipate expanding from four to six lanes. It appears that this delay is another example of budget concerns being felt at PennDOT. PennDOT made a decision this year to focus its funding on projects involving bridge repairs.

PennDOT has re-launched its Marshalls Creek Bypass website. The Monroe County, Pennsylvania project’s website was unavailable for at least a few months. It is now up and running again at www.marshallscreekbypass.com/main.cfm. You can find information regarding PennDOT’s intended construction schedule and other topics. However, the site does not shed any new light on the third phase of construction which was temporarily put on hold in the spring. It appears that PennDOT still intends to move forward at some point with phase 3 of the project. However, it is still considering design issues. Stay tuned.

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell announced a plan to repair 1,145 bridges across Pennsylvania. The list and a county-by-county map of all the bridges are available on PennDOT’s Web site at www.dot7.state.pa.us/RebuildPA/Main.htm

Rendell has asked the General Assembly to approve this plan which he estimates will require state funding of an additional $200 million a year for three years, to be combined with federal road repair funds. The "structurally deficient" bridges include 91 in Southeastern Pennsylvania including 35 in Bucks County, 26 in Chester County, 15 in Montgomery County, nine in Philadelphia, and six in Delaware County. Most are smaller bridges.

It is unclear at this time whether the General Assembly will approve this project. According to press accounts, Senate Republicans acknowledged repairs were necessary but expressed reluctance to borrow more funds. This issue will likely by an important part of budget negotiations.

PennDOT has been planning a project known as the “Marshalls Creek Bypass” for many years. It is aimed to alleviate gridlock at the bottleneck of Routes 209 and 402 in Smithfield and Middle Smithfield townships, Monroe County Pennsylvania. PennDOT has already acquired some properties for this project and was sent to acquire more properties when it decided to put the project on hold in April.

I represent some of the property owners that will be impacted by this project and spoke with a PennDOT representative about its plans. PennDOT still intends to go forward with the project. However, it is revisiting some of its plans to determine if there are ways to cut costs.

It appears that we will know more about PennDOT’s plans later in the summer or early fall.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation ("PennDOT") recently announced its preliminary construction plans for a portion of I-95 in Northeast Philadelphia. These plans include rebuilding two interchanges – one at Bridge Street and one at Betsy Ross Bridge and Aramingo Avenue. PennDOT also intends to rebuild a three-mile stretch of I-95 between Cottman Avenue and the Betsy Ross Bridge. Construction is scheduled to start in 2012. However, according to PennDOT, preliminary engineering is to be completed late this year.

Businesses and residential properties will be acquired for the project – either amicably or through the eminent domain process. I spoke with the outside consultant for the project who told me the acquisition for the project will be in about 2 years. However, we always counsel our clients to engage in “pre-condemnation” planning. This involves a number of potential actions including working with PennDOT to see if you can avoid losing your property. However, most planning involves taking steps to ensure that you receive the maximum payment for your property if it is condemned.