As Berks County's official Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), the Reading Area Transportation Study (RATS) is responsible for developing the four-year Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) for the entire county and presenting the TIP for approval by the State Transportation Committee (STC). Employees of the Berks County Planning Commission staff RATS.
The following is an outline of how a project would go from concept to construction in Pennsylvania. The typical time table for project completion is measured in years.
--Municipalities in the study area rank proposed transportation improvement projects within their boundaries and present their prioritized list to RATS.
--Most major projects must go through a study stage prior to being included on the program. This study documents the transportation needs and impacts of the proposal. RATS may fund this study through its annual work program or through the TIP process described below or the municipality or a group of municipalities can fund it.
--RATS ranks all the proposed projects in Berks County, along with those recommended by PENNDOT. This prioritized countywide list is then reviewed against the amount of federal, state and local transportation funding expected to be available to the county (base funding allocation). Projects or project phases (large projects may be broken down into multiple and phases) are then added until all the expected funding is earmarked for projects. The resulting list of 'fundable' projects becomes the county's Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).
--RATS presents its TIP to the State Transportation Commission (STC), along with any requests for additional funding from the state or federal government for major projects that go beyond the county's base allocation. Municipalities may present testimony to the STC in support of individual proposals at the hearings.
--The STC then revises its list of projects, which is known as the Twelve Year Program. The number of new projects added to the Program depends on the federal and state funds projected to be available over a twelve-year period. The four-year TIP represents only projects that can expect to be funded for one of the separate stages of project development: Preliminary Engineering, Final Design or Construction.
--When the project or phase of a larger project is funded, PENNDOT begins the process of contracting with an engineering firm to perform Preliminary Engineering. Preliminary Engineering includes completion of required environmental studies and development of conceptual highway plans.
--At the completion of Preliminary Engineering, PENNDOT begins the process of contracting with an engineering firm to perform Final Design. The end product of Final Design is a set of construction plans.
--Right-of-way acquisition, if needed, must be completed prior to moving to construction.
--At the completion of Final Design, PENNDOT begins the process of soliciting bids and selects a contractor who submits the lowest qualifying bid.
--PENNDOT issues a Notice to Proceed with Construction to the contractor and work begins.