A Note From Our Chair
I learned early on in my career in the private sector that the successful delivery of a major transportation or engineering project hinges on successful partnerships between the public and private sectors, business partners and teams dedicated to delivering projects on time and on budget. Today, that focus on partnerships is critical to the success of the PA Turnpike’s key initiatives.
Increasingly, our agency is serving as a partner with a wide array of agencies, private-sector businesses, and other stakeholders to provide safe and efficient travel for our customers – and to power statewide and national mobility. In this edition of The Road Ahead, I am happy to share updates on several partnerships that our agency is helping to lead. The PA Turnpike has joined with PennDOT and Penn State University for the Pennsylvania Safety, Transportation and Research Track (PennSTART), a state-of-the-art training facility for first responders, transportation organizations, and researchers.
We have formed two new partnerships with our transit partners in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh regions, SEPTA and the Port Authority of Allegheny County, respectively, on two separate studies.
We have two goals for these studies: First, we want to work with both agencies and regional leaders to explore sustainable investment and financial support for these important partners. In addition, we need to stabilize toll rates for our customers and to continue maintaining and expanding our tollway system.
The Commission has also joined a new partnership with PennDOT, Ohio, and Michigan departments of transportation and academic institutions to form the Smart Belt Coalition to support testing and deployment of various applications of connected and automated vehicles (CAV).
Beyond this initiative, our modernization efforts continue with the launch of a new automated vehicle classification system on the Northeastern Extension and the Findlay Connector. We are transitioning from an axle and weight-based vehicle classification system to a new axle and height-based system.
Finally, the PA Turnpike is working to ensure that all our customers pay their fair share. We have begun pursuing criminal complaints of egregious scofflaws. All motorists, including private and commercial drivers who habitually take free rides, now risk suspension of their vehicle registration or a potential criminal complaint.
Thank you for your continued interest in our operations and impact on the state and, please, drive safely.
PA Turnpike, PennDOT and PSU Join Forces on Research Facility
In April, the PA Turnpike joined with PennDOT and Penn State University to announce the Pennsylvania Safety, Transportation and Research Track, or PennSTART — an initiative to address safety, training, and research needs in six key areas: traffic incident management (TIM); tolling and intelligent transportation systems (ITS) technology; work zones; commercial vehicles; transit vehicles; and connected and automated vehicles.
The facility will also feature simulated training for higher-speed and mobile work-zone operations; simulated environments for temporary traffic control device testing and evaluation; smart truck parking applications; and controlled environments to test various connected and automated vehicle technologies. Click here to read the PA Turnpike news release or visit www.PennSTART.org for more information on the project.
Chair Richards Launches Women’s Resource Network
PA Turnpike Chair Leslie Richards recently led the inaugural session of PA Turnpike’s Women’s Resource Network which was created to provide a forum for PA Turnpike women and men staffers to further develop their professional careers. The Network provides opportunities to connect, mobilize, network, and participate in mentoring activities.
The first meeting focused on career development, the importance of work/life balance and the growth and need for gender equity in the workplace.
Chair Richards shared stories about her professional journey in both the private sector in the planning and engineering fields and in the public sector as an elected official and in her dual roles as PA Turnpike Chair and PennDOT Secretary.
As the mother of three children, Secretary Richards offered insights on maintaining the balance between work and life at home.
“I was a stay-at-home mom for seven years. I think it is very important to be able to demonstrate that you can find that balance and you can come back and pick up a career where you left off,” Secretary Richards said. “Everyone has their own experiences and their own important, valuable story to share. I’m excited for my women co-workers who will be able to benefit from the network.”
Chair Richards explored these and other topics in a recent interview with Flagger Force traffic control services. Read more here.
PA Steps into Coalition to Chart Course for ‘CAV’ Tech
The PA Turnpike has joined forces with PennDOT, Ohio, and Michigan departments of transportation and academic institutions to form the Smart Belt Coalition to support testing and deployment of various applications of connected and automated vehicles (CAV).
Craig Shuey, PA Turnpike Chief Operating Officer noted, “Among the first things we wanted to look at was how we connect our work zones to keep and them and our people safe,” said Shuey. “We’re seeing that this technology is coming so we’re trying to say to ourselves, ‘What do we need to do to prepare ourselves and our roads?’”
Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Michigan, and The Ohio State University and Transportation Research Center are members of the coalition as well.
You can learn more here.
Southern Beltway Advances with Pioneering Construction Practice
The Southern Beltway project (Toll 576) is among the PA Turnpike’s most ambitious and challenging ongoing projects. Currently, a three-mile, $700 million segment is under construction between Interstate 79 and Route 22 in Allegheny and Washington counties.
The project is noteworthy for its sheer size and the innovative use of a groundbreaking construction tool that involves using two cranes to move massive beams. This “load triangle” process was approved by the state Department of Transportation. The PA Turnpike and contractor Alvarez Inc. of Canonsburg became the first company in the state to use this method.
Beams are being placed over Racoon Creek in Washington County. The process is a delicate one which required the coordination of two crane operators, an erection supervisor, and several construction workers setting 123-foot long, 75-ton precast concrete beams. A total of 42 beams need to be placed before crews can start paving.
When finished, the Southern Beltway will be 19 miles connecting I-79 to I-376 at the Pittsburgh International Airport. The entire project is expected to be completed in 2020 and cost approximately $800 million. For more information on the project, click here.
Crackdown on Persistent Toll Scofflaws Gains Traction
The PA Turnpike Commission has stepped up efforts to ensure that all customers pay their tolls; it has begun to pursue criminal complaints against egregious scofflaws. This new effort, led by Chief Compliance Officer Ray Morrow, involves enlisting local prosecutors to pursue theft of services criminal cases. Data show that the state’s top 100 toll evaders each have more than $21,000 in unpaid tolls and fees.
All motorists, including both private and commercial drivers who habitually take a free ride now risk suspension of their vehicle registration or a potential criminal complaint. So far, the commission has filed 13 private criminal complaints and has collected more than $120,000 in unpaid tolls and fines.
“It’s a matter of basic fairness and good business practice. Customers who do the right thing and pay their tolls should not be expected to cover for others who refuse to pay their fair share,” said PA Turnpike CEO Mark Compton.
Compton also thanked the Legislature has for supporting Act 165, which provides our agency with the necessary enforcement tools to collect unpaid tolls and fees from motorists who ignore repeated requests for payment.
PA Turnpike Tests New Vehicle-Classification System
The PA Turnpike continues testing of a new Automatic Vehicle Classification (AVC) system on the Findlay Connector section of the Southern Beltway (PA Turnpike 576) and at the Clarks Summit and Keyser Avenue Toll Points on the Northeastern Extension (Interstate 476).
This system will replace the axle and weight-based vehicle classification system with an axle and height-based system that is more accurate and, for the agency, less expensive to maintain. This change will impact toll rates. The new rates are available at the PA Turnpike’s toll calculator.