County residents are being encouraged to view transportation as a regional issue.
When a person needs to get to work, "They don't care about the boundaries of counties," Carly Dobbins Bucklad said Thursday at a meeting at the Ellwood Group Inc. offices on Moravia Street. She is project manager for the effort to improve all levels of mobility in the Greater Pittsburgh region.
She said one long term goal is to connect transit systems between counties.
Bucklad is part of the Regional Transportation Alliance of Southwestern Pennsylvania, which unveiled its "Seven Principles for a Better Transportation Future" when about 50 local private and public sector community leaders met. The principles are part of "Imagine Transportation 2.0," a study that takes in the 2.5 million people and 7,000 square miles in 10 counties of the region.
Lawrence County hosted the first county meeting of 10 where the principles were revealed.
The seven principles for regional development unveiled by the group are: optimize existing assets; prioritize connections to jobs and education; embrace new operating models; make flexible, future-proof investments; adopt best management practices; support multiple mobility options and operate as a integrated system. The principles were formulated after an 18-month process that sought feedback from the counties.
One goal that Bucklad said "appears to be a priority across the region" is the need to improve commuter transit along Interstate 79 and Route 65.
Other projects being considered in Lawrence County are potential uses of two long stretches of unused rail rights-of-way that could be developed for freight transit or trails; a possible new highway interchange at Millenium Park; and bike and pedestrian trail development.
She said that the group seeks to improve transportation on many levels. She pointed to one of their past projects, the retiming of nine traffic signals on Washington Street several years ago, which is estimated to be saving motorists $1.7 million annually in fuel and other costs, as well as decreasing travel time and fuel emissions.
Bucklad and Ken Zapinski, also of the Alliance, pointed to such past projects as replacement of New Castle's North Street Bridge, which has one end on a city street and one end on a state road and includes a bike lane; and the New Castle Area Transit Authority's daily commuter runs to Pittsburgh, which include a stop at a park-and-ride site in Butler County.
Lawrence County Commissioner Dan Vogler, who attended the meeting, said the largest number of Lawrence County's commuters who travel to work in another county go to Allegheny County. And he said New Castle Area Transit Authority is ahead of many other counties in that it sends several commuter runs to downtown Pittsburgh daily.
"Not all counties do that," he said.
Vogler said he also brought up a regional transportation concern that he heard voiced the previous day by David Badger of New Beaver Borough Council. He said Badger told him that truckers are avoiding the 16-mile tolled section of I-376 because it has a higher toll rate than the rest of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. This, in turn, is putting more truck traffic onto Routes 18 and 168, both two-lane roads, causing a safety concern.
Vogler said he was told a change in the toll could only be made by the turnpike commission or the state legislature.
The next step, Bucklad said, is to "build specifics on the ground...and build the political will for the big picture that needs to change."
Lawrence County members of the group's steering committee are county Commissioner Steve Craig, who serves as co-chair, and David Barensfeld of Ellwood Group Inc. Craig did not attend Thursday's meeting as he was traveling home from a related transportation conference.
Other participating counties are Beaver, Allegheny, Butler, Washington, Armstrong, Westmoreland, Indiana, Fayette and Greene Counties.
More information is available at RegionalTransportationAlliance.org.