A Note From Our Chair: Safety, Customer Service and Innovation Drive Our Agency Forward
I am especially pleased to share this edition of The Road Ahead as we head into the holiday season, because much of the information we are sharing reflects our commitment to safety, customer service and innovation. These are pillars of our strategic plan and drive virtually every decision we make at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC). The safe travel of our customers, as well as the safety of employees and business partners, has been — and always will be — our priority.
Safety drives the investments we make, from our 24/7 maintenance and safety presence on our roadway to the capital investments to modernize and expand our system to meet growing demands. It drives our partnerships with the Pennsylvania State Police and with first responders in every community across our system. And, as you will see, we continue to leverage technology to make our road safer.
Our state has led the way in many industries over the years, and a successful automated truck platooning demonstration recently showed that Pennsylvania is a leader in the field of automated driving. This demonstration involved agencies and partners in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan — a reflection of our commitment to work with in-state private sector businesses and research institutions, as well as with other states.
The PTC is also expanding our use of a new alert system that sends real-time notifications to drivers approaching active responders en route to, or on the scene of, an incident. If motorists are aware and better prepared for the movement of our Safety Patrol and first responder vehicles, we know we can reduce accidents.
Finally, it is important to understand the critical role that the Commission plays as a partner to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) as we grapple with our statewide transportation funding challenge.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the commonwealth agreed to allow PTC to defer its quarterly Act 44 payments due to the significant reduction in traffic and revenue. The commonwealth recently required that the PTC make these payments by the end of January 2021. Our agency, together with PennDOT and transportation stakeholders, looks forward to a robust discussion of solutions to address the state’s transportation funding shortfall in 2021.
Thank you for your interest in the PTC and our efforts to serve our customers and the commonwealth. I encourage you to share The Road Ahead with your colleagues. Please have a peaceful and joy-filled holiday season.
Innovation with Automated Truck Platooning Demonstration
The PTC recently participated in a successful automated truck platooning demonstration with two tractor trailers that traveled from Pittsburgh, through Ohio, to Michigan. The demonstration was led by the Smart Belt Coalition (SBC), a collaboration among transportation agencies including the PTC and PennDOT, and educational institutions in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio.
Platooning involves a driver operating a lead truck that uses radio signals to operate in concert with the second truck, which is immediately behind the lead vehicle. The second truck has a driver who can take control of the vehicle if necessary. As the technology develops, the second vehicle could operate without a driver.
The vehicles automatically maintain a set, close distance between each other when they are connected. Ultimately, the goal is to move twice as many goods at a lower cost because platooning reduces fuel consumption.
On local roads the trucks operated separately, but they were linked in platooning mode while they were on divided interstate highways.
“As a state that has always been at the forefront of innovation and industry, it should be no surprise that Pennsylvania is an epicenter for automated vehicle research and development,” said PennDOT Secretary and PTC Chair Yassmin Gramian. “As stewards of transportation safety and mobility in Pennsylvania, PennDOT has a critical role in helping to ensure that this new technology is developed and tested safely.”
Click here for more information on the demonstration
Click a video of the demonstration exiting Pennsylvania.
Expanded Alert System that Helps Protect Safety Patrol Workers
After a successful testing period, the PTC will expand its usage of the HAAS Alert Safety Cloud’s system, which provides real-time notifications to drivers approaching active responders who are en route to, or on the scene of, an incident.
Emergency vehicles, incident response vehicles, tow trucks, maintenance vehicles, arrow boards, and work zones use the Safety Cloud to warn approaching drivers of nearby roadway hazards and to lower the likelihood of a collision.
Safety Cloud alerts are delivered to motorists today through the Waze navigation platform on in-dash systems such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as mobile devices.
The PTC introduced the system this year in 98 safety vehicles and, through mid-October, there were no crashes involving Safety Patrol vehicles. In 2018 there were nine such crashes, and 2019 saw 12 crashes involving Safety Patrol vehicles. It is important to note that the new alert system is one of a wide array of safety measures that PTC has implemented in recent years.
Given the reduction in accidents in 2020, PTC will expand the alert system to 44 maintenance attenuator vehicles in 2021 for work zone safety.
Click here for more information on this critical safety initiative.
Act 44 Payments to PennDOT to Resume
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the commonwealth agreed to allow the PTC to defer its quarterly Act 44 PennDOT payments of $112 million for July and October due to the significant reduction in traffic and revenue. The commonwealth recently required that the PTC make these deferred payments by the end of January 2021. As a result, commissioners recently approved a bond issue of up to $550 million, which will be sufficient to fund four quarterly Act 44 payments of $112.5 million each through April 2021 and to provide reserves required to support the bonds and provide debt service relief over the next two years.
These payments of $450 million a year are mandated under Act 44 of 2007. To date, the PTC has provided approximately $7 billion to PennDOT. As a result, the PTC has reduced its capital plan and will continue annual toll increases through 2026.
Under a separate statute, Act 89 of 2013, the annual payments will be reduced to $50 million beginning in 2023. The PTC has been working with PennDOT and transit agencies in the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia regions to create Mobility Partnerships to identify sustainable revenue streams for the operation and maintenance of transit systems.
As we look ahead to 2021, our team will continue to remind lawmakers how critical Act 89 is to our agency and our customers.
Traffic Volume and Revenue
This is typically the time that holiday travelers would hit the road to join family and friends in celebrations. This year, given the restrictions in many states to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, PTC is projecting a 20 percent downturn in traffic for the Thanksgiving holiday as compared to last year. The most recent information on traffic volume and revenue is provided in these charts.