Welcome to the County of Berks
RATS August 2017 Technical Commitee Minutes
 
READING AREA TRANSPORTATION STUDY
MINUTES OF THE TECHNICAL COMMITTEE MEETING HELD ON AUGUST 3, 2017 AT THE BERKS COUNTY PLANNING COMMISSION CONFERENCE ROOM ON THE FOURTEENTH FLOOR OF THE BERKS COUNTY SERVICES CENTER
 
ATTENDANCE
 
TECHNICAL COMMITTEE
Christopher Kufro PennDOT 5-0, Chair*
Ray Green, PennDOT Central

Alan D. Piper, Berks County Planning Commission

Tim Krall, City of Reading
Michael Golembiewski, Berks County Planning Commission
 Jeff Glisson for Dave Kilmer, SCTA/BARTA
*Tie-breaking Vote only
 
TECHNICAL COMMITTEE MEMBERS NOT ATTENDING

Terry Sroka, Reading Regional Airport

Ralph E. Johnson, City of Reading
 

OTHERS  

Kerry Fields, PennDOT 5-0
Gene Porochniak, PennDOT Central Office
Shannon Rossman, Berks County Planning Commission
Regina Zdradzinski, Berks County Planning Commission
David Berryman, Berks County Planning Commission
Bill Royer for Ryan McKenzie
Jay Vaughan, Spring Township
Robert Schoenen, STV Incorporated
Beth Brelje, Reading Eagle
David Kostival, Reading Eagle
 
1.         CALL TO ORDER
 
         Chairman Kufro called the meeting to order at 1:30 p.m.
 
2.         REVIEW AND APPROVAL OF TECHNICAL COMMITTEE MINUTES OF JULY 13, 2017
 
         Chairman Kufro asked if there were and questions or comments to the July 13, 2017 Technical Committee Meeting minutes.
 
        MOTION:  Mr. Green made a motion to approve the July 13, 2017 Technical   Committee minutes.  Mr. Krall seconded the motion and it passed unanimously.
 
 
3.            BUSINESS FROM THE FLOOR
         
           Mr. Vaughan, from Spring Township, mentioned the fatal accidents on Rt. 222 South, between the Broadcasting Road interchange and the off ramp to Rt. 12 near the Berkshire Mall.  Traffic backs up on the off-ramp back towards Broadcasting Road interchange.  There were a few fatal accidents there in the last couple of years.  It comes from traffic sitting on the mainline and the speed of vehicles heading southbound on Rt. 222 and rear ending drivers sitting in traffic. 
 
           Mr. Vaughan wants to know what he must do to get someone to look at this situation.  Chairman Kufro stated that PennDOT has been working with this committee to initiate having a consultant work on improvements within the ROW there to help that situation.  They are looking at how to utilize the shoulder area and possibly use it as another traffic lane.  This would avoid a weave pattern and build up more capacity.  Early warning signs coming up over the crest might help, as well.   Mr. Piper said the committee would look at this as a first step to do as quickly as possible. PennDOT is considering using their open-end contract so they would not have to bid for a new consultant.  The original design of the interchange worked fine for the first 15 years.  The second merge point at Rt.12 will have to be looked at.  This will not be a quick fix. 
 
4.            PENNDOT REQUESTED AMENDMENTS/MODIFICATIONS TO FFY 2017-2020 TIP
          
           Ms. Fields gave an update on Amendments/Modifications to FFY 2017-2020 Highway TIP from July 10, 2017 through July 27, 2017.
 
Amendments: There were no Amendments.
 
Administrative Actions:  There were 8 Administrative Actions.  One of these involved    the addition of Preliminary Engineering for safety projects on   SR 61 in Perry/Windsor Township and in Tilden Township The remaining 7 actions reallocated funds within existing projects.
 
Mr. Glisson stated that SCTA made Transit TIP Modifications in May 2017 to make adjustments to the interim Section 5307 Funds that came to Berks County.  The Federal Government recently released their final portion of Section 5307 Funds nationwide.  These Administrative Actions, based on those figures, make the necessary changes to the projects to balance the funding sources so they are fiscally constrained with the allocation in order for the grant to get approved by the FTA.  These programs need to be on the TIP.  The seven projects and the funding changes being made to balance the funding sources are listed on the handout.  
 
5.            REVIEW/RECOMMENDATION OF PROPOSED TA-SA FUNDING POLICY
 
         Mr. Piper stated that there was a discussion at the last meeting regarding cost overruns that are associated with the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) now the Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside Program (TA-SA)).  At that time, it was decided that more discussion was needed regarding this policy.  The Coordinating Committee agreed we are on the right track but they provided no specific feedback.
 
         Because there is no current policy, the committee has been handling these requests on an individual basis.  If there is extra money, we check to see if it can be reassigned to another project.  There is no requirement that the project sponsor has a share in covering these increased costs.   There is also no policy to consider whether we provide additional funding to projects that were funded through the MPO’s allocation versus projects awarded out of the statewide pool.
 
         Mr. Krall stated that he is new to this process and has found out that he has to hire a designer for the construction phase of a crosswalk project who must attend a pre-construction meeting.   Green Light Go has also changed and these steps were not considered for the project or initially formulated in the review for the application.   The project consultant said that all of these extra elements will probably eat up most of the project’s funding and there will not be enough money left to complete it.   Reading might have to deny the project. 
 
         Mr. Krall stated that he is in favor of a needed policy. This will greatly reduce or eliminate the escape hatch for projects that are not fully thought through by the local sponsors.   He asked if there is an educational feature or warning that could be added to let local sponsors know about these new elements.  Mr. Piper said that, regarding the TA-SA program, applicants this round are required to have a meeting with both the MPO and the District to talk  about their proposed project and estimated costs.  This will let them know which elements are needed and the scope of costs that will be needed.   Mr. Piper said he was not aware of some of these extra costs either and suggested that maybe, from the Department’s side, there could be a better outreach to the municipalities to help them understand the requirements of TA-SA that go along with getting federal dollars.  Chairman Kufro stated that TAP projects are more involved.  This Green Light Go project does seem to be overboard.  He is not familiar with what is going on with it.  Mr. Krall stated that he understands there are changes and that he was told that this is a PennDOT element project and has to go through all of the red tape to go through the steps.  Mr. Krall has another current traffic signal intersection project will follow a more streamline project guideline.  Chairman Kufro asked if this Green Light Go project is a 50% ($12,500) match.  Mr. Krall said yes.  Reading City would match that with another $12,500, which is a benefit for Reading.  The project could be done for approximately $20,000, but not under TA-SA.  Mr. Green said he would have to talk to Baker, who is the consultant for the project.  Ms. Rossman asked if a new request could be submitted for an application change with the same funding.  Mr. Piper said that the applicant would probably have to give up the current funding and resubmit an application.   Chairman Kufro stated that the project should be questioned before it is awarded.  Mr. Krall said that if a local sponsor underestimated the work, shame on them.  If they estimated it because they were ignorant of all the red tape, then the burden will be put on PennDOT’s and/or the MPO.  We don’t want to go back to a case by case situation. 
 
         Mr. Glisson asked if the TAP applications go to the state.  Mr. Piper stated that there are two options that are available.  We, as a large MPO, have the option to set up our own separate review program.  An applicant would have to submit to the MPO to be considered for local money and to PennDOT to be considered for the statewide money.  We elected not to do that and to piggyback on the state selection process where all of the applications went to PennDOT and get and returned to us for recommendations.  Funding can be approved from either or both the MPO and statewide pools.  Mr. Glisson asked if there is anything in the PennDOT requirements regarding the estimates that come in to be reviewed by the municipal engineer as part of the process.  Mr. Piper said he is not sure but it is one of those things that PennDOT would be looking at under the new guidance.  Staff met with one applicant so far, and has talked through the process and tried to make them aware of the pitfalls along the way.  It is not municipal dollars, but federal dollars.  Mr. Krall stated that if you go to public bids, rates will be higher because of that.   All of this has to be factored in.  Chairman Kufro said that all consultants working on this program should know this in dealing with the state.  Mr. Piper said that if the municipality is trying to push a project through, they need to use a consultant that is familiar with the process and knows what needs to be incorporated or at least have an engineer that is willing to meet with the Department to make sure they learn what needs to be in there while putting the application together.  Chairman Kufro stated that the projects must be competitively bid and regulations must be followed.  Mr. Krall said there should be a comment on the application form regarding this that the manager can read.    Mr. Piper stated that a difference this round is that it is strongly recommended to meet with the MPO and PennDOT.  For TA-SA, if you meet with the MPO and the District, the applicant gets bonus points.  If you fail to meet with either of them, the applicant is automatically ineligible to be considered.  
 
         Chairman Kufro stated that there will be issues that come up on projects that may not be foreseen.  It sounds like the Coordinating Committee would like this committee to propose something to them regarding a policy.  Mr. Piper said this is subject to further discussions. 
The options, in summary are:
 
No Funds available: There are no additional funds available.  Project sponsor would be responsible to cover the overage.
 
Just say no:  Regardless of fund availability, RATS would not fund any project coverage.
 
Case-by-Case Basis, No specific contribution set:  This would be a continuation of present practice, where RATS would generally cover 100% of the overage if funds were available to do so.
 
50/50 Sponsor and RATS split the overage:  RATS would agree to cover 50% of the overage amount only. 
 
Fixed 15% of Overage:  RATS would cover 15% of the overage only.  (Staff recommended). 
 
Fixed 15% of Original Amount:  RATS would contribute 15% of original award amount to go towards the overage.
 
A max percentage and/or max cash limit:  RATS would set a specific percentage and/or cash contribution, whichever is met first.  For this scenario, $15,000 has been set.
 
         Chairman Kufro asked what other MPO’s are doing.  Mr. Berryman said that almost everyone is handling their projects on a case by case basis or following the State’s official policy.  No other MPO has adopted a fiscal policy. 
 
         Mr. Krall asked how the surplus is generated.  Mr. Piper said that when we have a funding cycle through the TAP program, we tried to allocate all of the dollars available to projects or maximize what we have and recommended the balance come through statewide funding.  There was never money left in a reserve account because if a project does not come along, the money just sits there with a tendency to lapse. The only reserves that we have had in the past have been from projects that fell through.  The policy was always to spend all of the money. 
 
         Mr. Piper stated that there were some opportunities at the end of a TIP cycle, where dollars are left either under TAP, regular STP or STU funds that were left in a program that was “use them or lose them” by a certain date.  Sometimes these funds were tapped into if there was a need and we could make the project move.  These STP and STU dollars are eligible for other highway projects.  The TAP dollars could only be used for these types of projects. 
 
         Mr. Piper noted that PennDOT has indicated that there is approximately $1.1 million available to the Reading MPO to use between FFY 2017 and FFY 2020.  Mr. Green stated that MPO’s could retain a small amount as a reserve, but PennDOT prefers the money be put on a project.  Mr. Krall asked if it could be awarded to a new project.  Mr. Piper said no.  Any project that receives the funds must be selected through a competitive process that went through a state program or the MPO program and was recommended for funding. 
 
         Ms. Rossman asked if the policy would recommend 15% only if the MPO has available funds.   Mr. Piper said yes.  We cannot distribute what we don’t have.  Mr. Krall pointed out that there appears to be a lot of reserve that is just sitting there.  Mr. Piper stated that the “reserve” includes both funding for approved TAP projects that are not yet on the TIP and everything we receive during this cycle.  The money will be used. 
 
         Mr. Piper stated we, as an MPO, now have the right, if we have TA-SA money left over,   to flex it back to an STP project.  Mr. Green said it is a part of the new block grant rule.  Mr. Piper said that it doesn’t just sit there if we do create a reserve.  It can be rolled back and be reassigned to an active STP funded project.  Mr. Green agreed and said it is per FAST Act.  Mr. Piper stated that it won’t hurt to maintain a minimum reserve out of dollars we have and to address the overage issues under a policy. 
 
         Chairman Kufro stated that when a project bid comes in over 50% above the estimate, the project should be rebid.  There needs to be flexibility.  He is in agreement with the 15% of the overage up to $15,000, if funds are available.  Mr. Glisson asked why it is 15%.  Mr. Piper said the 15% was an initial recommendation and subject to change.  Chairman Rebert and Mr. Green both agreed that it should not go higher than 20%.  Ms. Rossman asked if that would affect the 50% overage scenario.  Mr. Piper said it might depending on the size of the project.  A 50% overage is automatic denial and the project goes to rebid.  Below the 50% is subject to funds available.  A 20% overage covered by MPO and 80% covered by the applicant up to a maximum contribution by the MPO of $15,000 was suggested.  Chairman Kufro stated it is a way to keep the municipalities and their consultants paying attention to the red tape and have everything planned properly. 
 
         Mr. Piper handed out a list of conditions that would document eligible vs. non-eligible requests for overage funding.  Mr. Glisson said that with unforeseen conditions and the state of the economy, the market is so tight that there is a tendency to bid high.  Mr. Golembiewski asked if a statement could be put into the policy that “RATS reserves the right to amend this policy or go above the 15% based on individual circumstances”.   Mr. Krall said people would think it is business as usual and it would undermine the policy. 
 
         Mr. Green asked if RATS is good with the mixed proposal.  Mr. Piper felt that we could live with the scenarios of:  over 50% is out and rebid; anything less than 50% can fall under the 20% overage up to $15,000, subject to the availability of funds.  It is still on a “first come first serve basis” for requesting the additional funding. 
 
         Mr. Piper asked if the list of eligible and non-eligible requests should be left in the policy.  Chairman Kufro said that he likes the general “catch all” statement.  The eligible requests are the ones that we see.
 
          Mr. Piper stated that this discussion was done to bring the thought process to the committee.  This could be refined, but there is not another Technical Committee meeting before the September 2017 Joint Meeting.   The draft policy will be sent out to the board and request feedback via email or telephone.  Hopefully an agreement on the final wording of the draft policy will be completed before the joint meeting mailing so it can be presented to the Coordinating Committee for approval.   Mr. Berryman stated the purpose for the Eligible vs. Non-Eligible options is to give the committee time to review the options.  It does not lock you in to be so extremely specific that it rules everything out. 
 
         Mr. Glisson suggested keeping some in as an example for future use for committees to look at if guidelines are being provided to municipalities. If a project comes along and is not specifically addressed, then the guidelines will help the MPO decide.  Chairman Kufro stated that he wants to avoid forcing the committee in one direction or another.  Some of these statements are locking us in a direction.  The more the options are read, it does cover every possible situation.  Mr. Porochniak mentioned the annual inflation part above the percent established by PennDOT.  If there is something in the market that would dictate that, should this be automatically thrown out as a non-eligible?  This straddles the fence between the circumstance and how it would be interpreted.  Mr. Piper said, when looking at a TIP, we look at the Year of Expenditure and build a 3% per year inflation factor into the present year’s cost to decide what the award would be for a project.   Mr. Glisson said that this explains that the error could be on the municipality side regarding how they prepared their project estimate.    If the municipality or consultant errs, that is on them.  If there are other defined reasons that are concurred, then they may be considered.  Mr. Berryman said that it give the committee choices or options.  It gives it definition.  Mr. Piper stated that this policy only applies to those portions of projects that we fund using local (MPO) TA-SA dollars and that we will not be responsible for covering overages for projects that are funded under the statewide allocation.  This should be part of this policy.
 
         Chairman Kufro asked the committee is they want to have further discussion regarding this policy or pass this along to the Coordinating Committee for approval.  
In summary, the proposed policy is as follows:
 
·   Only applies to TA-SA projects we fund from the MPO’s allocation
 
·   Only applies if dollars are available in which the decision could be made by our committee
 
·   Any project more than 50% over budget is automatically subject to being re-scoped and re-bid.
 
·   Any project less than 50% over budget, will be considered for participation at 20% of the overage up to a maximum of $l5,000 per project.
 
Mr. Piper said that the policy will be cleaned up and circulated to committee members for feedback.  The goal is to have consensus on the actual wording prior to submitting it to the Coordinating Committee for final consideration at the September meeting.  
 
7.            COMMUTER SERVICES UPDATE
 
         There was no Commuter Services Update.
        
8.            PENNDOT UPDATE ON BRIDGE PROJECTS
 
Chairman Kufro gave an update on the Bridge projects.  (See Attachment).  
 
Mr. Golembiewski asked when the Wall Street Bridge in Leesport Borough will be closed.  Mr. Piper said it is scheduled to be sometime in August 2017.
 
6.            UPDATE ON TRANSPORTATION IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT PROCESS
 
          Mr. Piper stated that we started in May with the State Transportation Commission’s survey.  Ms. Hain put together a summary of the public survey results that were received for Berks County.  The main focus of comments was on 222 North and US 422 West Shore Bypass and other places already being worked on. He said in one form or another, the MPO was already addressing between 60-70% of the projects that are requested on the survey. 
 
         Mr. Piper then reviewed the survey results, sorted by municipality, with the committee.  Survey results addressed highway/bridge recommendations, requests for transit or passenger rail service, and bicycle/pedestrian issues. 
 
         Mr. Piper stated that, in addition to that survey, Ms. Fields went through the TIP and the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP).  There is a handout in the packets entitled RATS MPO Estimated Costs for 2019 TIP.  The existing TIP projects were updated and candidate projects from the LRTP were identified.  Mr. Piper stated that there are a few bridge projects included on the LRTP list.  Our plan does not cover all of the structurally deficient bridges, but a few have been identified.    We are also looking to advance the Preliminary Engineering phase for the last portion of the US 222 North Corridor, which is not yet programmed.  That would go from the Kutztown Bypass to the Lehigh County line.  Construction funding is starting to be put on the US 422 West Shore Bypass project.  The Preliminary Engineering phase for the US 422 Sinking Spring project is being advanced from 2019 to 2018.   For each update, there is a commitment to include a Bridge Preservation Line Item to keep addressing bridges to extend their useful life.    The Bingaman Street Bridge will be grouped in as part of the West Shore project. 
 
         Mr. Vaughan asked Mr. Piper how hard it is to get work done on bridges over Norfolk Southern railroad tracks.  The Dwight Street Bridge in Spring Township gets worse with every inspection.  He cannot determine who the main custodian is for that bridge.  Mr. Vaughan does not want to attempt maintenance if the bridge does not belong to Spring Township. 
 
         Mr. Piper stated that we are continuing through an agreement to flex $900,000 in CMAQ to BARTA for use for vehicle replacement.  The projected CMAQ costs for Berks County’s share of the Commuter Services Program over the course of this period are listed.
 
         Mr. Piper stated he met with the District staff regarding their candidate bridge recommendations. The identified bridges are located:  1) Rt. 61 over the Schuylkill River, south of I-78; 2) Rt. 568 in Robeson Township; 3) Rt. 662 in Ruscombmanor Township; 3) Rt. 10 between Caernarvon Township and New Morgan Borough; 4) Rt. 143/Intersection 737 in Albany Township, near Kempton; 5) Rt. 419, north of Womelsdorf Borough; 6) Rt. 419, south of Rehrersburg; 7) Rt. 645 in Bethel Township; 8) Donat Road in Greenwich Township; 9) Weavertown Road in Amity Township; 10) Township Line Road in Amity Township; 11) Removing an old Rt. 82 bridge from inventory; 12) Freemansville Road; 13) Rt. 222 on Kutztown Bypass; 14) Bingaman Street Bridge, which will be incorporated into the Rt. 422 project.
 
         Mr. Piper stated that MPO staff prepared a supplemental list of candidate projects.  These included drawing projects out of the Congestion Management Program, looking at other state bridges in addition to PennDOT’s candidates, local bridges, and other congestion and safety-related projects. 
 
         Mr. Piper said this list contains candidate projects.  We need to carry all of the projects on the program now and then see what dollars are left and draw down from this list of candidate projects.   He asked if there are any major projects missing from the mentioned candidate list. 
 
         Mr. Green questioned the rates for Commuter Services.  Mr. Piper said these are based on current rate plus 1% inflation per year.  If we change our commitment, then we look at changing the commitments of the l3 participating counties.  The allocation was always based on a percentage of population.  It is a 1% per year inflation rate built in and based on the current policies we have with SRTP.  Mr. Glisson asked if the agreement is determining this or is CMAQ determining the agreement.  Mr. Piper stated that the Commuter Services program is funded through the Susquehanna Regional Transportation Partnership (SRTP) and we contract with AECOM to provide the services. Costs are shared by the thirteen counties that are involved in the program. 
 
         Mr. Piper stated that there has been a discussion before regarding a dedicated local bridge funding source at the state level.  If there is, we can look through our information.  There is the need to have a local buy in for local shares.  We need a good local bridge program. 
 
         Mr. Piper stated we are still waiting for PennDOT’s Investment Plan information. This may influence how the MPO elects final priorities.  Chairman Kufro stated that RATS is in good shape with numbers and goals are being met. 
 
         Mr. Piper stated that CMAQ funding was another issue that needs to be discussed.  Mr. Golembiewski stated that we go through the process of picking the projects and decide what projects are moved over from the existing TIP and which project we would like to bring in.  How do we pay for it?  The answer is that there are different pots of money with different set of eligibility criteria for each pot.  How do we get those projects to fit those pots of money?  One of the pots of money is called Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds (CMAQ).  This pot of money is specifically used for projects that help air quality.  The criteria for this funding are:  1) Must be a transportation project; 2) Located in an air quality non-attainment or maintenance area; and 3) Have issues with ground level ozone and fine particulate matter that results in emissions reduction.  We cannot increase emissions.  In the past, if we met these three criterions, we could use CMAQ funding.  With FAST Act, a greater emphasis is being placed on Performance Measures and measuring the impact we have based on all of these various projects and processes.  FHWA has come out with more stringent guidelines in applying CMAQ funds to the projects.   We must take a more detailed look at individual projects and come up with a more stringent selection process and quantifying why we are selecting those projects.  FHWA wants to look at emissions reduction and the cost benefit ratio from individual projects.  Certain types of projects have a better rate of return.  Ride Sharing programs like Commuter Services give us good benefits and emission reductions for the cost.  Other projects not so much.  We were told to better document the things we do but what we do is okay.  Staff had a conference call with Central Office last week.  FHWA wants to see a more stringent selection process undertaken as part of this TIP cycle.  Every project that is going to have CMAQ funding will have to run through the air quality model, which is done anyway, or for certain projects like funding for BARTA bus replacements, will go off of a model spread sheet program where the air quality benefits of the dollars being used can still be determined.  The process and the results must be documented and submitted as part of the TIP process.  It will be more work on our end but will be better defined regarding what we do and how we do it.  Mr. Piper stated that it does not necessarily change what we are doing but documenting the process better.  It serves as a tool to see where we are allocating those dollars and move them around between projects to give us a better return.  Scenarios can be run to figure this out. 
 
9.            OTHER BUSINESS
 
·                 Mr. Glisson stated that at the SCTA board meeting in July, a contract was awarded to Nelson Nygaard Associates for the Transit Development Plan Update. The kick-off meeting with the consultant and SCTA is August 18, 2017.  SCTA is moving forward with this project, among other things, and it will look at potential service connections between Berks and Lancaster Counties reaching out to the business community to make connections regarding employment and job issues.  There will be more coordination between the Lancaster and Berks County MPO’s tapping into resources and the data that is already available.   
 
·                 Mr. Piper stated that PennDOT’s US 422 West Shore Bypass Reconstruction Open House presentation will be held on August 15, 2017 at Alvernia University.
 
·                 The Joint Technical/Coordinating Committee meeting will be held on September 21, 2017 at the Reading Regional Airport at 1:30 PM.
 
10.           ADJOURNMENT
 
MOTION:  Mr. Krall made a motion to adjourn the meeting.  Mr. Green seconded the motion and the meeting was adjourned at 3:30 PM.   
 
 
     Date:  9/21/17                               
 
                                             
                                                                  /s/Alan D. Piper
           Alan D. Piper