Lebanon County stands to gain significant additional funding as a result of the recently passed state transportation funding package.
The funding plan will generate more than $7 billion for the state's transportation system during the next five years in several phases, including raising driver registration and licensing fees, increasing fines for motor vehicle violations and raising the tax on the wholesale price of gasoline.
Just exactly how much the county will receive and when will remain uncertain until funding formulas and other details of the plan are better understood, state and county transportation planners said at a recent meeting of the Lebanon County Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Board.
"We are waiting for the Department of Revenue to come in with the final figures, but it looks very positive, said Jim Arey, a manager at PennDOT's Center for Program Development and Management. "It is nice to be able to go into a room like this and instead of talking about what we can't do, talking about what we can do. For the future it is going to have a tremendous impact on our long-range, long-term transit, highway and inter-modal needs."
Based on current expectations, county transportation planner Tom Kotay estimated the state funding plan will boost the county's annual transportation budget by $4 million. That money will help offset an anticipated loss of about $1 million in federal spending, giving the county a net gain of $3 million annually for its transportation projects and programs, he said.
"That is significant for a small MPO that normally has an $8 million to $9 million to $10 million overall federal/state funding budget," Kotay said. "That is a nice increase for us and keeps us keen on looking at our important projects and how they advance."
Before the funding plan was approved by the state Legislature, PennDOT District 8-0 project manager Dennis Sloand said he was anticipating the county would be losing significant funding, which would have caused paving and bridge repair projects to be postponed, he said.
"The Initial TIP (Transportation Improvement Plan) development that I was working on in December, the amount of funding for the draft-guidance we got in November was about $2.3 million less than in the previous program year," Sloand said.
Much of the funding in that early estimate included federal money targeted for large bridge and highway projects, making many of the county's projects ineligible, Sloand added.
"That was going to make it even more challenging to fund certain types of projects," he said. "So with this additional state funding I hope we will at least maintain current programs for the first couple of years and then add a significant increase in the third and fourth years."
Some of the big projects that motorists can anticipate in the coming year include the long-awaited replacement of the Chestnut Street bridge in North Cornwall Township and a fix for the persistent sinkhole on Route 422 in North Londonderry Township, said transportation planner Jon Fitzkee. Also planned is the repaving of Route 897 in Schaefferstown, which was torn up for a sewer system project and construction of the Route 501 bypass, both of which have been completed.
Also expected to be completed later this year is the congestion-management study under way by Gannett Fleming.
Dubbed Lebanon County Moves, the study is examining transportation problems in the county, with a special focus on its busiest corridors including Route 322, Route 422 and Route 72.
A large component of the study is the collection of public comment using an Internet website. Residents and others who use county roads are encouraged to visit Lebanon County Moves. There they will find specific questions about the county's transportation system and be given an opportunity to post comments and concerns.
Also available to read on the website is a newsletter detailing comments collected from about 60 community leaders and transportation planners who attended a transportation summit held at HACC Lebanon Campus in November.