READING AREA TRANSPORTATION STUDY
MINUTES OF THE COORDINATING COMMITTEE MEETING HELD VIRTUALLY
JANUARY 20, 2022
Michael Rebert, PennDOT 5-0 Chair*
Kristin Mulkerin, PennDOT Program Center
Donna Reed, City of Reading
Tom McKeon, Berks County Planning Commission
Greg Downing/Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt, SCTA/BARTA
Brian Hoffa, Boroughs (Sinking Spring)
Sam Kalbach, 1st Class Townships (Cumru Township)
Michelle Albright, 2nd Class Townships (Rockland Township)
*Tie-breaking Vote only
COORDINATING COMMITTEE MEMBERS NOT ATTENDING
Commissioner Michael Rivera, County of Berks
Vacant, Reading Regional Airport Authority
Jen Crobak, FHWA
Chelsea Beytas, FTA
Amanda Leindecker, PennDOT 5-0
Scott Vottero, PennDOT 5-0
David Alas, PennDOT Central
Jim Mosca, PennDOT Central
Crystal Heshmat, PennDOT Central
Michael Donchez, PennDOT 5-0
Jeff Rai, PennDOT 5-0
Alan D. Piper, Berks County Planning Commission, MPO Secretary
David Hunter, Berks County Planning Commission
Ashley Showers, Berks County Planning Commission
Michael Golembiewski, Berks County Planning Commission
Amanda Timochenko, Berks County Planning Commission
Regina Zdradzinski, Berks County Planning Commission
Devon Hain, Berks County Planning Commission
Laura Mursch, Berks County Planning Commission
Paul Janssen, Center of Excellence for Local Government
Matt Boyer, Commuter Services of PA
Dean Murray, West Reading Borough
Andrew Kulp, Reading Eagle
Heather Berger, Berks County IS
Malcolm Townes, Berks County IS
1. CALL TO ORDER
Mr. Piper took a verbal roll call of the Committee members. Chairman Rebert
then called the meeting to order at 1:03 p.m.
2. INTRODUCTION OF NEW MEMBERS
Mr. Piper stated that there are three new members on the Committee. They are Sam Kalbach (Cumru Township) representing 1st Class Townships, Michelle Albright (Rockland Township) representing 2nd Class Townships, and Brian Hoffa (Sinking Spring) representing Boroughs.
Mr. Piper stated that there is a vacancy for the Reading Airport Authority representative to this Committee because Mr. Rudderow did not get reappointed. All Committee members in attendance introduced themselves.
3. BUSINESS FROM THE FLOOR
There was no Business from the Floor. Mr. Golembiewski stated that there was no public comment, and the YouTube is not streaming now.
4. REVIEW AND APPROVAL OF THE MINUTES OF COORDINATING COMMITTEE MEETING OF NOVEMBER 18, 2021
Chairman Rebert asked if there were any questions or comments on the November 18, 2021 Coordinating Committee meeting minutes. There were no questions or comments.
MOTION: Commissioner Barnhart made a motion to approve the minutes of the November 18, 2021 Coordinating Committee meeting minutes. Ms. Mulkerin seconded the motion and it passed unanimously.
5. ELECTION OF OFFICERS
Mr. Piper stated that the practice has been to nominate the District Executive from PennDOT District 5-0 (currently Mr. Rebert) as the Chairman. We nominated Mr. McKeon from the Berks County Planning Commission as the Vice Chairman. Both Chairman Rebert and Mr. McKeon agreed to serve another term, if reappointed. Mr. Piper opened nominations.
MOTION: Commissioner Barnhardt made a motion to open and close the nominations of the District Executive for PennDOT District 5-0 (Mr. Rebert) as the Chairman and Mr. McKeon, Berks County Planning Commission representative as Vice Chairman. Ms. Mulkerin seconded the opening and closing of the nominations, and it passed unanimously.
MOTION: Commissioner Barnhardt made a motion to vote for the nominees, Mr. Rebert as Chairman and Mr. McKeon as Vice Chairman for the Reading Area Transportation Study Coordinating Committee for 2022. Mr. Hoffa seconded the motion and it passed unanimously.
6. PENNDOT REQUESTED AMENDMENTS/MODIFICATIONS TO FFY 2021-2024 TIP
Mr. Donchez gave an update on the FFY 2021-2024 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).
• There were 4 Administrative Actions – these deal with shifting funds to meet recent Design and Utility relocation estimates and PS&E Design package estimates
• There were 2 Statewide Administrative Actions – these deal with adjustments to the Interstate TIP
Chairman Rebert stated that the RATS FFY 2021-2024 TIP is a list of projects in Berks County that are being worked on. The projects range in size and include phases such as Construction, Preliminary Engineering, Final Design, Right of Way (ROW) aquisition or working with utilities.
He stated that the TIP is developed and adopted using best estimates at the time. Throughout the course of a TIP, money needs to be moved sometimes from Federal Fiscal Year to Federal Fiscal Year to align with the status of a project. If the adjusted amount is over $3 million, or significant adjustments are made to a project, then it becomes an Amendment where a motion is needed. Administration Actions are for information purposes only.
7. REVIEW/APPROVAL OF FFY 2022-2024 UNIFIED PLANNING WORK PROGRAM (UPWP)
Mr. Golembiewski stated that, at the November Coordinating Committee meeting, staff was authorized to send the draft FFY 2022-2024 Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP) to Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and PennDOT Central Office for their review and opportunity to provide comments on the draft, as required by FHWA.
There were several comments received and many of those were technical and grammatical in nature. There were items mentioned that were not included yet. Some missing examples are:
• Federal factors under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act and how the UPWP addresses those ten factors.
• Discussion on projects and timelines - The UPWP has five major work areas with the same twenty task areas as found in the current UPWP. Two years ago, we were required to add a specific overall chart in the beginning of the document. The major milestones were addressed in specific work areas and included in the overall worktable as well.
• Budgetary information is broken down into the five major work areas and the twenty individual codes. These codes are used to invoice PennDOT for the tasks performed by Berks County Planning Commission and the South Central Transit Authority (SCTA) staff acting as staff to the MPO.
• Carryover projects from the current UPWP – this is new and was addressed within the five work areas and identifies the deliverables and who is responsible for them.
Mr. Golembiewski incorporated all the comments from the FHWA, FTA and PennDOT Central Office and there were no additional comments received. This draft document was reviewed at the January Technical Committee meeting, where a recommendation was made for this board to adopt the draft FFY 2022-2024 UPWP and forward it to PennDOT and FHWA by their deadline of January 31, 2022.
Ms. Mulkerin commented that this was great work and coordination to address all the comments. Mr. Golembiewski stated that he had communicated with Ms. Crobak, the FHWA regional representative for RATS, this morning and confirmed that she had no other comments.
MOTION: Mr. McKeon made a motion to approve the FFY 2022-2024 UPWP and to forward it to PennDOT and FHWA. Ms. Reed seconded the motion and it passed unanimously.
8. UPDATE ON DRAFT FFY 2023-2026 TRANSPORTATION IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT (Transit and Highway/Bridge)
Mr. Piper stated this overall development process was started in March 2021 with the
State Transportation Commission doing outreach regarding the State’s 12-Year Program update. We piggy-backed on that and marketed their survey for input regarding potential projects later. All Berks County municipalities were solicited for project recommendations to the LRTP/TIP.
By July 2021, preliminary Financial Guidance was provided to us which allowed MPO staff in coordination with the District to begin drafting a list of potential projects for highways and bridges for the FFY 2023-2026 TIP. In addition, South Central Transit Authority (SCTA) coordinates with their partners to develop a list of potential projects for transit throughout the MPO region.
Mr. Greg Downing is the new Executive Director of SCTA and was under the supervision of Mr. Kilmer during Mr. Kilmer’s last six months of work. He provided an overview of the draft Transit TIP.
Mr. Downing stated that the funding is being used for the same categories as it has been for the last few years. The funding is for the replacement of buses and operating assistance, as well as to maintain facilities in a state of good repair. He stated that in 2024, one of the projects identified includes solar panel installation at their Operations Center which will aid in lowering the costs associated with operations and further their energy conscientious efforts.
SCTA has not requested any Congestion Management and Air Quality (CMAQ) funding in the proposed TIP because SCTA does not anticipate the need to replace or purchase any new buses during the FFY 2023-2026 TIP cycle unless there would be some later expansion of service. They do anticipate needing the CMAQ funding again beginning in FFY 2027.
Mr. Piper stated that the initial proposed funding for the FFY 2023-2026 TIP on the highway/bridge side was slightly less than the funding received in the previous update. In the middle of the development process, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which made a significant change to total funding. As a result, instead of having to cut projects from the draft TIP, more projects were added.
Mr. Piper gave a summary of TIP funding by funding type over the past three funding cycles. Back at the 2019-2022 TIP, the MPO was at a good place for funding and moving forward in the program. It was anticipated to have a large number of projects in the out years of the 4-Year TIP, 12-Year Program and the LRTP. During the last TIP funding cycle in 2021-2024, PennDOT made a policy decision, that the MPOs went along with, to begin shifting additional funding over to the Interstate Highway System. As a result of the formulas used, we lost approximately 35-40% of funds over the course of the FFY 2021-2024 TIP. In mid-2023 when the development process began for the FFY 2023-2026 TIP, we anticipated losing a little more funding based on estimated reductions in the state funding.
Major funding gains were made when the IIJA was approved which will provide approximately 30-45% of additional funding over the prior program. We are still behind in funding when compared to the 2019 TIP. All of the federal funding categories show an increase in funds over the 2021 program. Some federal funding categories increased significantly. The National Highway Performance Program (NHPP), which funds our biggest roads, increased from 47%-200% from where we were after the shift of funds to the Interstate Program.
Mr. Piper stated that the Surface Transportation Program (STP) has a slight gain of 11% in the later years. A reduction in funding is still anticipated in state highway funding. Having more federal money is good but that means there needs to be more state dollars available to match the federal dollars.
One of the biggest changes in the new program is funding for bridges. In addition to the formula funds, there was a separate bridge program that was created and paid for out of the federal general fund that amounted to $8 million per year more for bridges in Berks County. Approximately $6.7 million per year goes to bridges that are on the National Highway System (NHS) and the rest of the money goes to any other bridge that is not on the NHS list. This results in providing almost double the amount of funding available for Off-System bridges.
Mr. Piper explained that the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funding increased approximately 7-15%. The Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) showed a significant increase of approximately 150% over the amount previously available. The TAP funds trails and non-traditional transportation projects. Surface Transportation Program (STP) funds increased approximately 10-16%.
In addition to the funding we receive through these programs, there is funding that is referred to as the Spike funds, which are funds held in reserve by the state and allocated to different areas as necessary to meet their needs. This is at the discretion of the Secretary of Transportation. As the TIP updates are done, these funds are identified and if an area has been granted Spike funds at any time, the goal of the Department has been to make sure the funding is given out to that area.
For the development of the FFY 2023-2026 TIP and the 12-Year Program, there is Spike funding from several different categories. Spike funds are distributed by program areas and are assigned to specific years. The Traffic Safety Management & Operations (TSMO) is one category which funds approximately 50% of the Freeway Service Patrol in FFY 2023 and FFY 2024. No funding was received from the state under the NHPP Spike Program. However, we did receive significant funding for our two major projects out of the STP and State Spike funds. For the US 222 North Widening project, which extends from Maidencreek Township to the Kutztown Bypass, the STP Spike was approximately $11.7 million in FFY 2027 and the State Spike was another $2.9 million in FFY 2028. The most significant project that received Spike funding was for the proposed improvements and reconstruction of the West Shore Bypass. It was allocated approximately $245 million in STP Spike funding over FFY 2028-2034 and an additional $61.3 million in State Spike funding over FFY 2029-2034. It is anticipated to be ready for construction beginning in FFY 2028.
Mr. Piper stated that, to date there were approximately 13 meetings with PennDOT regarding the FFY 2023-2026 TIP development process. At the start of the process, carry-over projects from the previous TIP are identified and updated. The Draft Comparison of FFY 2021 TIP/LRTP and Proposed FFY 2023 TIP/LRTP Project Listing chart provided identifies all the projects that are either included on the current TIP or the proposed FFY 2023-2026 TIP. SCTA did not need CMAQ funding at this point. However, we did continue to include CMAQ funding for SCTA throughout the later years of the 12-Year Program.
Certain recurring tasks or projects are placed into Line Items. Specific actions using these funds are then developed on an as needed basis. Some of the Line Items are for Berks Commuter Services, Demand Management Services, and Freeway Service Patrol. Additional Line Items include Geo-Tech In-house Assistance, Construction Assistance, Bridge Consultant Assistance, and Environmental Impacts Resolutions. These Line Items are for services provided within the District Office for staff to ensure our projects keep moving through the Design process and get to actual construction. The Bridge Consultant Assistance and Geo-Tech In-house Assistance are new this year. A new Safety Line Item provides funding for guiderail projects throughout the County. When the MPO is done assigning funding to specific projects, the remaining funds are placed into Line Items. That funding is used to balance future projects.
There is a large number of projects that are carry-over bridges. Some of these include projects on the northern end of the Rt. 6l corridor that includes the rehabilitation of the bridge over the Schuylkill River in Hamburg Borough, and improvements to intersections from Perry Township to the Schuylkill County line that includes median barriers, bridge upgrades and pavement improvements. New intersection projects in Oley Township are located at the SR 73 and Friedensburg Road intersection, which has congestion issues due to a high volume of school traffic, and at SR 662 and Oley Turnpike Road which has a high rate of crash incidents. Several bridge preventative maintenance activities were added. Bridge overlay bundles and bridge preventative maintenance projects help minimize cost and extend the life of the bridges.
Another project proposed for inclusion in the FFY 2023-2026 TIP consists of performing a study along the northern portion of the Rt. 183 corridor as a result of the increased truck traffic due to warehouse development along the corridor and in the Reading area. As well, a study is proposed for the Rt. 183 section just north of the 222 interchange which will look at carrying the lanes through to just beyond the intersection with Upper Van Reed Road. The projects on the Rt. 222 Corridor continue to progress. Once the current improvements are completed along the corridor in Maidencreek Township, the next stage includes constructing the roundabout at Long Lane on the north side of the Kutztown Bypass. That will be followed by the widening of US 222 from Maidencreek Township to the Kutztown Bypass.
On the last TIP, a study was initiated of the State Hill Road corridor in Wyomissing which extended from Penn Avenue to Colony Drive in Spring Township. That study is nearly finalized, and the recommendations are being programmed into this TIP. Another new project is the SR 4028 bridge over Maiden Creek is located off Old Rt. 22 just to the east of Lenhartsville.
Mr. Piper stated that this information was provided to the Committee for their information and to answer any questions that the Committee may have. The IIJA includes funding for FFY 2022 which amounts to approximately $16 million that still needs to be allocated on the current TIP. Before this list of potential projects for the FFY 2023-2026 TIP can be finalized, projects need to be identified and funds need to be allocated for FFY 2022. This will potentially affect the proposed list of projects for FFY 2023-2026 as a result of advancing projects or adding new projects to the current FFY.
Commissioner Barnhardt asked if the last 3 bridges (Penn Ave. over Maiden Creek, Park View Road Bridge, and Pigeon Creek Bridge) were bridge removal projects. Mr. Piper stated the only bridge that is a removal project is the bridge on Penn Avenue over the Maiden Creek located in Lenhartsville.
Ms. Reed requested a synopsis of the roundabouts proposed on State Hill Road in Wyomissing. Mr. Piper stated that roundabouts are proposed at the intersections of both Greenwood Mall and Woodland Road. Roundabouts are proposed at these locations to help reduce the severity and frequency of crashes along this portion of State Hill Road. Mr. Vottero noted that the study phase was just recently completed for this project. Environmental factors and design characteristics will be evaluated during the Preliminary Engineering phase for this project. The Preliminary Engineering phase will help ensure that what the study phase proposes makes sense to remedy transportation issues along this portion of State Hill Road.
Ms. Albright asked about the Smoketown Road bridge that failed 6 months after it was repaired. Mr. Piper stated that the initial repairs focused on repairing the deck and superstructure of the bridge. When the flooding occurred, it undercut the abutments which made the repaired deck drop.
Mr. Piper stated that there is no formal action required on this at this time. This was presented to allow the Committee to provide feedback and guidance on the list of proposed projects for inclusion in the FFY 2023-2026 TIP. This proposed project listing has been submitted to PennDOT. We reviewed it at a meeting with PennDOT and they concur with the process that was followed. The goal will be to finalize this list and bring mapping and more detailed information to the March Coordinating Committee meeting. At the March Coordinating Committee meeting, we’ll ask the Committee to formalize the draft list of projects to be included in the draft FFY 2023-2026 TIP and Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP). Once we have final approval, staff will complete the documentation related to Air Quality and Performance Measures, as well as the rest of the documentation that is required.
The work being performed now also ties into the development of the LRTP. Draft background material has been completed for the LRTP, and information will be provided to members for their preliminary review. These two documents will proceed forward in conjunction with each other for development and ultimately adoption over this summer.
These documents are scheduled for review and adoption by the Committee at the July 21, 2022 Coordinating Committee meeting. PennDOT indicated that adoption by RATS MPO on that date may be late in their process for inclusion in the State TIP. As a result, we may request in the future to advance the July Coordinating Committee meeting to coordinate with PennDOT’s timing for submittal of the State TIP to FHWA.
9. REVIEW/APPROVAL OF TRANSPORTATION ALTERNATIVES SET-ASIDE PROGRAM PROJECT FUNDING
Mr. Piper stated that one of the discretionary funding programs available is the Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside Program (TASA). This funding is made available every two years. It is a program area where RATS received significantly more funding than what we had received in prior years.
PennDOT changed their process this year. Normally, the notice for the program would be sent to applicants and the MPO would not know what projects were being submitted until the final applications were received. This year, PennDOT began a two-tiered process for evaluation of TASA projects. Guidance was distributed and people were allowed to start preparing draft applications with a deadline for submitting a pre-application. Anyone that submitted a pre-application participated in a meeting with PennDOT and MPO staff to review their proposal to ensure the proposed project is consistent with the program guidance. The meeting also provided an opportunity to determine if the proposed project was far enough in development to proceed if funds were allocated and that the costs aligned with the proposed project scope. In previous TASA application rounds, a number of project applicants tried to keep their grant request as small as possible because the applicants did not realize the impacts and understand the requirements of using federal dollars. This resulted in them needing to readjust the scope of their project to meet the budget or find additional funding.
Meetings were held with five applicants. They are:
1) Cumru Township – They elected to withdraw their pre-application for a project relating to stormwater improvements along the Wyomissing Creek to reduce flooding. This will give them the chance to further define the project and return for the next round of funding.
2) Sinking Spring Borough – Complete Street improvements related to their redevelopment project.
3) Albright College - Crosswalks and ADA safety initiatives in the area located in Northeast Reading.
4) Governor Mifflin – Pedestrian and sidewalk improvements in the area where Waverly Street goes through their campus.
5) Ontelaunee Township – 2 different forms of stormwater management improvements.
The applications were then reviewed, scored, and ranked by the Technical Committee members. Funding for the program comes from two potential sources. They are:
1. Money that is allocated directly to the MPO. For the current two year cycle, we went from having approximately $500,000 available for the program to $1.3 million.
2. The state has a significantly higher amount of funds available to them for use statewide.
When the projects were ranked, the Governor Mifflin project was considered the top priority, with the Albright College and Ontelaunee Township projects following close behind. The #4 priority was the Sinking Spring Complete Streets project. That project was ranked low because one of the key elements of funding under the TASA program is project deliverability within the time frame of the program. PennDOT was looking for projects that were ready to go to construction no later than fall of 2023. Based on a number of factors related to both the Phase 4 project that PennDOT is doing and the lack of designs or ROW for the remaining piece of the Columbia Avenue Extension, it was determined that now is not the time to fund the Complete Streets project.
During the review period, we were made aware that the Governor Mifflin School District received over $600,000 of their request from a separate funding program which was through the Multimodal Transportation funding program from DCED. Governor Mifflin was asked if they wanted to amend their request to receive the difference in the funding amount to complete their project. The issue is, if TASA funding is being used, the federal guidelines for plan development, programming and contract administration need to be followed even if federal funds are only partially funding a project. Based on this information, Governor Mifflin decided to withdraw their application for the TASA funding because the federal guidance and schedules did not mesh with their proposed timeline.
The recommendation is to fund the Albright College and Ontelaunee Township projects with the dollars available to the Reading MPO. There is a balance of approximately $900,000 that will be kept in a Line Item reserve on the TIP to be used if any current projects require additional funds or if any projects arise in the future that meet program eligibility and the readiness factor. We were required to make a preliminary submission of that recommendation to the Department by the first week in January.
MOTION: Ms. Reed made a motion to approve and move forward with the TASA project recommendations. Commissioner Barnhardt seconded the motion and it passed unanimously.
10. MAJOR PROJECT STATUS REPORT
Mr. Vottero gave an update on the status of major projects.
Mr. Piper said the Preliminary Engineering on the SR 222 Kutztown to Lehigh County Line project is included in the 12-Year Program. It will need to get a lot closer before we start seeing significant movement on that last piece of SR 222.
Mr. Piper stated that funding was moved in the fiscal constraint chart for the I-78 (12M) Mainline Reconstruction project to incorporate emergency gates and temporary signals as a part of that project.
11. COMMUTER SERVICES UPDATE
Mr. Boyer stated that the Susquehanna Regional Transportation Partnership (SRTP) is an organization that comprises nine counties in South Central PA, including Berks County.
Commuter Services is a transportation demand management program that encourages people to use other modes of transportation besides driving alone in a car. Commuter Services is partnered with BARTA and other service area transit authorities and also promotes walking, biking and other modes of transportation as a means of travel to and from work locations. There is a CommutePA website that provides car share, ride share and vanpool matching opportunities.
Commuter Services of Pennsylvania’s current Chairman of the Board for the SRTP is Mr. Golembiewski from the Berks County Planning Commission. Mr. Boyer is from Berks County and has been with Commuter Services for ten years and used to work for the House of Representatives.
The Clash of the Career Links promotion was won by York County. Prior to that, there was a Battle of the Counties, which was won by Berks County. These promotions consist of tracking green trips to and from work during a specified period of time.
There are many partnerships in Berks County with employers, community organizations, colleges, universities, etc.
The CommutePA statistics is a database that tracks roadway miles that are removed as a result of using other modes of transportation and identifies emission improvements. There were 9l new members in December that joined CommutePA. They logged in, created profiles and are tracking their trips. There were 5,300 trips tracked in December, which equates to 138,000 miles not driven as a result of using a green mode, and amounts to $77,000 saved in the members’ pockets.
12. OTHER BUSINESS
• There is a 2022 meeting schedule in the packets.
• There is an article in the packets regarding Rail Freight Grants. The Berks County Redevelopment Authority will receive $1.4 million to make improvements to the Colebrookdale Railroad so it can serve additional industries in that area.
• Mr. Paul Janssen, from the Center for Excellence in Local Government (CELG), was requested by the County Commissioners to work with RATS moving forward in identifying transportation projects that could be a benefit to communities and the County through applying for American Rescue Plan funds from the County. Whatever is done must be consistent with the plans and policies of RATS.
Mr. Janssen said he is looking forward to attending future meetings. As the applications are developed and requests are received, discussions can be held with the Committee in the future.
MOTION: Ms. Reed made a motion to adjourn the meeting. Commissioner Barnhardt seconded the motion and the meeting adjourned at 2:41 p.m.
____/S/ Alan D. Piper___
Alan D. Piper