Indiana and nine other counties in the greater Pittsburgh region are seeking to figure out how to best spend federal and state funds meant for a wide range of transit and transportation projects.
The newest Transportation Improvement Plan for the region (from Oct. 1, 2020, to Sept. 30, 2024) will include more money for interstate projects and less for local projects.
“It is disappointing that the funding that we all need to advance our projects isn’t there,” said Byron Stauffer Jr., executive director of the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development, during a 48-minute virtual public meeting of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission.
What SPC Director of Transportation Planning Andy Waple called “Smart Moves for a Changing Region” is part of what overall is a $22.7 billion plan for the next 25 years, including $5.6 billion over the next four federal fiscal years, which begin in October and end in September.
“It covers expenditures for highway, bridge, state and local, and transit funding,” Stauffer said.
It is a biennial process.
“TIPs are a four-year document, but they are updated every two years,” Stauffer said.
And while this TIP process actually began in July of last year, Wednesday’s hearing is one of three planned, with one apiece covering the three Penn-DOT districts in the 10-county region, during a monthlong comment period.
“It began on May 11 and runs through June 12,” Waple said,
“There is money there,” Stauffer stressed in an interview following that hearing. “However, it is being redirected to the interstate network of roads” — and Indiana County does not have any interstates.
“These are challenging times,” the Indiana County planner said. “It is roughly a 20 percent decrease from past TIPs, which is substantial.”
Stauffer is one of five Indiana County representatives on the SPC board, along with county Commissioners Mike Keith, Robin Gorman and Sherene Hess and Indiana County Chamber of Commerce President Mark Hilliard.
“Everyone is working cooperatively,” Stauffer said. “There are needs everywhere. We just have to get in line and fight for every penny we can.”
An appendix to the proposed TIP covers plans for projects in each of the 10 SPC counties, including 14 pages given over to more than a score of plans for Indiana County.
Waple showed examples of high-priority projects in Armstrong, Butler and Indiana counties, which make up PennDOT District 10 with offices in White Township and Butler.
High-priority projects shown for Indiana County will come as no surprise to motorists. Included are ongoing improvements to Route 286, including the widening of Oakland Avenue between Rustic Lodge and the U.S. Route 422 interchange, and replacement of culverts along Philadelphia Street in Indiana.
One notable difference in Indiana is the removal Wednesday of a traffic signal at Philadelphia and 11th streets, destined for elimination by PennDOT two years ago, during the TIP for the federal fiscal years of 2018-19 through 2022-23.
Despite opposition from borough officials, PennDOT insisted that it could not reinstall the existing signal, while three separate studies over three years found that the intersection did not meet Federal Highway Administration standards for what would be a new, $350,000 signal.
A high-priority project in Armstrong County is getting support from Indiana County officials, the $3,434,500 upgrade of the Margaret Road intersection with Route 422 in Plumcreek Township, involving realignment of the existing Route 422 and expansion of turning lanes at an existing at-grade intersection.
It is at a stretch known as the Margaret Dip, approximately seven miles west of Shelocta, and about halfway between Shelocta and downtown Kittanning. It’s a dangerous stretch that has had multiple traffic accidents, some fatal, over the years.
According to the TIP, plans are to spend $1,434,500 on utilities at the Margaret Road intersection in 2023, with the remaining $2 million going toward construction in 2024.
In turn, Stauffer said, it is part of an ongoing $20 million-plus overhaul of Route 422.
He said some improvements were planned in front of Cunningham Meats, on a stretch just west of the Philadelphia Street exit in Armstrong Township.
A hearing May 28 at 6 p.m. will focus on PennDOT District 12, which locally includes Westmoreland County, while the final hearing on June 2 at 6 p.m. will focus on PennDOT District 11, centered around Pittsburgh.