Labor Day Traffic Jams Could Be Daily Occurrence By The 2020s, Study Says

The traffic jams we can anticipate on highways like Route 22 this holiday weekend will plague American highways routinely by as soon as 2020 without increases in traffic capacity or other solutions, according to a travel-industry study.

In a report released Thursday, the U.S. Travel Association joins a growing list of engineers, contractors and other business interests, as well as federal and state agencies and officials, urging Congress and state governments to add new lanes and new highways. Long lead times for planning, design, environmental and other permitting before construction begins emphasize the need for early project starts.

“At current rates of highway-traffic growth, unless additional capacity … is created through expansion of existing infrastructure, new facilities or innovative techniques, the typical day will approach Labor Day peaks” of frustrating traffic jams, concludes the study by consultant Cambridge Systems Inc.

Though none of the interstates in the Lehigh Valley region are among the 16 segments used in the examination, the roads’ geographical diversity suggests that “together, they provide a reliable snapshot of the growing congestion on America’s highways” generally, according to U.S. Travel.

Read more: http://www.mcall.com/news/local/mc-road-congestion-labor-day-20130901,0,4247270.story#ixzz2dkwrwOsz
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Pennsylvania Terminates $170 Million Project With IBM Over Failure To Deliver Computer System It Promised

After seeing a technology project fall $60 million over budget and 42 months behind, state Labor and Industry Secretary Julia Hearthway has decided it’s time to pull the plug on a contract to modernize the state’s unemployment compensation computer system.

This decision announced at a news conference on Wednesday followed a $800,000 study by Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute that found the problems with the IBM Corp.-developed system to be unsolvable.

Spending any more money on trying to make the system, originally slated to cost $106.9 million, would have been a waste, Hearthway said.

The state now estimates the cost of the project has grown to $170 million but some payments have been withheld, a department official said.

Read more:  http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2013/07/pa_terminates_contract_with_ib.html#incart_m-rpt-2

SEPTA Ridership At All-Time High

SEPTA logo

SEPTA logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

SEPTA commuter trains had more passengers than ever in the year that ended June 30, carrying just over 36 million riders, SEPTA officials said Monday.

The trend was mirrored nationwide, as public transit in general and trains in particular have been gaining riders in recent years.

High gas prices, congested highways, relatively low fares, and a growing preference among young people for transit have all contributed to the rising number of passengers, transportation officials said Monday.

SEPTA Regional Rail trains carried 36.0 million riders, up from 35.3 million in fiscal 2012 and above the previous record of 35.5 million in 2008.  As recently as 1993, SEPTA carried just 19.2 million riders.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/transportation/20130723_SEPTA_ridership_at_all-time_high.html#IwbTqaSRLXv0KHyh.99

Reading Eligible For Revitalization Funds; May Miss Application Deadline

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsyl...

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsylvania area. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The state has given Reading the eligibility it wants to compete for a highly prized City Revitalization and Improvement Zone that, similar to Allentown, would use state and local tax revenue to attract jobs and millions of dollars in private investment.

But it’s still uncertain whether Reading will be one of the two pilot cities the state chooses in the first round this year, or even whether the city will apply in time.

Lancaster already has submitted its own proposal, and Bethlehem is expected to shortly.  The second round for two more cities doesn’t begin until 2016.

Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer could not be reached for comment.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=494416

Details Of Lancaster Revitalization Zone Program Are Unveiled

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lancaster County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lancaster County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Invoking the spirit of Ronald Reagan, Mayor Rick Gray summed it up best when he quoted the former president, “There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

That was the theme of a Wednesday morning press conference, where local elected officials and business leaders gathered to celebrate the passage of a bipartisan revitalization program that could deliver $100 million to Lancaster city.

“In an arena where the habitual reluctance of so many to reach reasonable solutions can be absolutely mind-boggling, today the story changes a bit,” said state Sen. Lloyd Smucker.

Surrounded by about 20 community organizers representing voters on both sides of the aisle, the Republican thanked his colleagues for months of hard work on the program, for which he has been a leading force.

Read more:  http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/870949_Details-of-Lancaster-revitalization-zone-program-are-unveiled.html

Allentown Schools Cut 151 Jobs, Hike Taxes 8.2 Percent

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lehigh County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lehigh County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Allentown School Board approved a final 2013-14 budget Thursday that spares full-day kindergarten and most elementary school related arts positions but cuts 151 jobs, sending a ripple effect throughout the district.

School directors voted 5-4 to adopt a spending plan that slashes 127 teachers, 14 administrators and 10 maintenance/custodial workers from the district’s payroll.  The cuts are accompanied by an 8.2 percent tax increase and a $10 million contribution from the district’s savings to keep the district afloat for another school year.

The only change to the $242 million budget was elimination of two vacant administrative positions — director of special projects and director of professional development.  That decision saves about $200,000.

Full-day kindergarten and elementary school music, art and gym teachers, originally in jeopardy of being cut, are retained in the final budget.  But the district will eliminate all five of its elementary librarians along with 19 middle-school related arts teachers.

Read more: http://www.mcall.com/news/breaking/mc-allentown-schools-final-budget-20130627,0,7917258.story#ixzz2XWm7azLQ
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Reading Taking Aim At The Drug Trade

Editor’s note:  Dear Attorney General Kane.  Please zero in on Pottstown (18 miles from Reading).  It is overrun with drug dealers, Section 8 slumlords and has a very high crime rate.  The police force is overwhelmed.

Reading is one of the portals through which much of Pennsylvania is receiving illegal drugs, and state Attorney General Kathleen Kane has proposed a plan that she says could help stanch the flow.

“The major source of supply into Harrisburg and Lancaster and York is coming from Reading,” Kane said during an interview with the Reading Eagle at her office in Harrisburg.

Nearing the midway point of her first year in elective office, she said she viewed illegal drugs as the top issue for her in Berks County.  Other pressing issues include child sex predators and consumer protection.  Kane previously worked as a Lackawanna County prosecutor and as an attorney.

Supplies of crack, PCP, heroin or marijuana come to Reading from places such as Arizona, Illinois and New York, with the original major source being Mexico, Kane said.  In Reading, the drugs are repackaged into street-sale quantities and sent out to other parts of Pennsylvania.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=485005

Public Wants More Transit Funding, Officials Say

SEPTA logo with text

SEPTA logo with text (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Amid state and federal wrangling over transportation funding, transit leaders meeting in Center City said growing public support should mean more money for trains, buses, and subways.

“The people of the nation are way ahead of some of their elected leaders,” Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff said Monday, citing a new survey for the American Public Transportation Association that showed 74 percent of respondents supported using tax dollars to “create, expand and improve public transportation.”  That was up from 69 percent last year.

In Washington and Harrisburg, lawmakers are debating how to pay for mass transit as well as highways and bridges.  Transit agencies, which typically get at least half of their budgets from taxpayers, are lobbying for increases to replace outdated equipment and vehicles and to bring derelict systems into a state of good repair.

A vote is expected this week in the Pennsylvania state Senate on a transportation-funding bill that would increase the gas tax on wholesalers (who likely would pass it on to motorists at the pump), and raise most vehicle fees and fines for traffic violations.  The measure would produce about $2.5 billion in additional transportation funding after three years, according to its sponsor, Senate transportation chairman John Rafferty (R., Montgomery).

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/transportation/20130604_Public_wants_more_transit_funding__officials_contend.html#Ygr2fvsOhvgMWo0W.99

Former Pennsylvania Governor George Leader Honored At Funeral Service

Standard of the Governor of Pennsylvania http:...

Standard of the Governor of Pennsylvania http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/us-pa.html#gov (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

HERSHEY, PA – Douglas Yeboah first met George Leader about eight years ago while working as a chaplain at the state prison in Chester.

Leader had sponsored a program at the prison to provide guidance and mentors to inmates, giving them a second chance. He believed in second chances and he believed in helping people in prison, people others had discarded or forgotten.

Not long after that, Yeboah retired from the prison system and moved back to his native Ghana.  He kept in touch with Leader and the former governor would often ask about Yeboah’s work.  The work, he always told him, was hard.  There was so much need in Ghana, so much pain and suffering.  Yeboah told him that children lacked medical care and that many of their maladies were preventable, if only they had access to clean drinking water.

Leader asked what he could do and in a short time, a drilling rig to dig wells for clean water was on its way to Ghana.  Yeboah mentioned to Leader that he hoped one day to build a children’s hospital, but it was out of his reach.  Leader told him he could do it, he could make it happen.

Read more:  http://www.ydr.com/local/ci_23259461/gov-george-leader-laid-rest

Studies On 2 Berks Highways To Shape Work Plans

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Berks County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Berks County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Studies to find out what it would take to make two of Berks County’s most-congested highways a quicker go are now underway.

PennDOT consultants are examining the seven-mile stretch of Route 222 between the Kutztown Bypass in Maxatawny Township and the Trexlertown Bypass in Lehigh County to see how much it would cost to widen it to four lanes.

At the same time, another team is looking at the West Shore Bypass between Wyomissing and Exeter Township to determine what changes could improve traffic flow.

Both studies were discussed Thursday during a meeting of the Reading Area Transportation Study, the panel that plans how state and federal transportation funds are spent in Berks.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=474858

Saint Vincent Reaches Final Agreement With Highmark

Headquarters of the insurance company in Pitts...

Headquarters of the insurance company in Pittsburgh, , . Address 120 Fifth Ave., Downtown. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor’s note:  Those folks at Highmark are gobbling up anything that’s not nailed down!

Erie, PA – The future of Saint Vincent Health System is now in the hands of Erie County Orphans’ Court.

Saint Vincent and Highmark Inc. have reached a definitive agreement for the Erie hospital to join Highmark’s integrated delivery system — the newly named Allegheny Health Network.

Saint Vincent would join Jefferson Regional Medical Center and West Penn Allegheny Health System in the network.  The Pennsylvania Insurance Department announced its approval Monday of Highmark’s takeover of West Penn.

“We look forward to joining the Highmark (network) in the very near future, along with Jefferson Regional Medical Center and West Penn Allegheny Health System, as we work to preserve health-care choice and ensure access to the highest level of quality care for residents throughout all of western Pennsylvania,” Saint Vincent Chief Executive Scott Whalen said in a statement.

Read more:

http://goerie.com/article/20130430/NEWS02/304309961/Saint-Vincent-reaches-final-agreement-with-Highmark

Schwartz Launches Her 2014 Bid For Governor

English: Official congressional portrait of Co...

English: Official congressional portrait of Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As U.S. REP. Allyson Schwartz gears up for a 2014 gubernatorial campaign, a familiar name is talking about succeeding her in the 13th Congressional District, which covers parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County.

Marjorie Margolies, a former television reporter who teaches at the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania, held that seat for one term, from 1993 to 1995.

She famously lost re-election after changing her 1993 vote on then-President Bill Clinton’s budget, giving him a one-vote margin of victory that broke her promise not to support an increase in federal taxes.

There are no hard feelings, though, since they are now related by marriage – Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea, is married to Margolies’ son.

Read more:  http://www.philly.com/philly/news/politics/20130409_Schwartz_launches_her_2014_bid_for_governor.html

US Airways Moon Township Center May Close

FAA Airport Diagram of KPIT

FAA Airport Diagram of KPIT (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

US Airways may jettison yet another Pittsburgh International Airport facility built specifically for its needs — one financed with the help of more than $16 million in public subsidies.

In a meeting last week with pilots, US Airways CEO Doug Parker said the carrier may close its state-of-the-art operations control center in Moon in “a couple years” as a result of its merger with bankrupt American Airlines.

If Mr. Parker’s prediction holds true, it would be the latest blow to a region that has seen US Airways slash more than 10,000 jobs and hundreds of flights over the past decade.  The airline also eliminated its Pittsburgh hub in 2004 — 12 years after the midfield terminal, built to its specifications, opened to support the airline’s growing needs. US Airways now has about 1,800 employees in the region.

Closing the operations control center would cost the region another 700 jobs.  The 72,000-square-foot building opened in November 2008 after Pennsylvania and Allegheny County officials outbid Charlotte, N.C., and Phoenix for the facility.  It combined a center in Findlay that US Airways had operated for 11 years and a smaller one in Phoenix, the result of the carrier’s 2005 merger with America West Airlines.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/business/news/us-airways-moon-center-may-close-680893/#ixzz2OfqwUXRr

Pennsylvania Pushes Drillers To Frack With Coal Mine Water

English: Cropped portion of image from USGS re...

English: Cropped portion of image from USGS report showing extent of Marcellus Formation shale (in gray shading). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Each day, 300 million gallons of polluted mine water enters Pennsylvania streams and rivers, turning many of them into dead zones unable to support aquatic life. At the same time, drilling companies use up to 5 million gallons of fresh water for every natural-gas well they frack.

State environmental officials and coal region lawmakers are hoping that the state’s newest extractive industry can help clean up a giant mess left by the last one. They are encouraging drillers to use tainted coal mine water to hydraulically fracture gas wells in the Marcellus Shale formation, with the twin goals of diverting pollution from streams and rivers that now run orange with mine drainage and reducing the drillers’ reliance on fresh sources of water.

Drainage from abandoned mines is one of the state’s worst environmental headaches, impairing 5,500 miles of waterways.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=461598

Berks School Boards Face More Tough Choices In 2013-14 Budget Process

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United Stat...

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United States Public School Districts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s looking like another tough budget season for school districts across Berks County.

Of the 13 local districts that have prepared preliminary budgets, all but one spending plan included significant shortfalls, ranging from about $400,000 to $2.2 million.

Muhlenberg’s budget doesn’t have a gap, but it currently includes a property tax increase larger than the state permits.

Budget gaps among districts can be somewhat hard to compare, because some include tax increases or major cuts in their preliminary budgets while others don’t.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=454915

Pa. May Pull Back On Funding For Redevelopment Projects

Map of Pennsylvania

Map of Pennsylvania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s most sweeping economic development programs could see a limited spending cap and permanent guidelines under a recently passed proposal.

The state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (often called “R-Cap”) provides grants with borrowed money for private projects pursued by municipalities and local agencies.

That could include hospital expansions, parking garages or community centers — any project with a cultural, civic or historical connection that could create jobs and be tied to economic development.

But the program is often criticized as a questionable source of ballooning debt.

RACP’s debt ceiling is $4.05 billion, about 10 times what it was when it was created in 1986.

Read more:  http://www.pottsmerc.com/article/20130224/NEWS03/130229703/pa-may-pull-back-on-funding-for-redevelopment-projects#full_story

Allyson Schwartz Nearly Certain To Face Corbett, insiders Say

English: Official congressional portrait of Co...

English: Official congressional portrait of Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz is all but certain to run for governor next year, buoyed by a $3.1 million campaign fund and a recent poll that showed her leading Gov. Corbett in a test matchup, according to several people familiar with the Montgomery County Democrat’s thinking.

The five-term House member from Jenkintown has been positioning herself for a gubernatorial run for a couple of months.

As evidence of her increasing prominence, the Pennsylvania GOP, in its statement last week responding to President Obama’s State of the Union speech, asked: “When will Allyson Schwartz present a serious plan to control spending?”

“She’s making all the phone calls, taking all the meetings you would do to run for governor, but I don’t think she’s made her final decision,” said Montgomery County Democratic Chairman Marcel Groen. He has estimated the chance of Schwartz’s running at better than 80 percent.

Read more:

http://www.philly.com/philly/news/politics/state/20130218_Allyson_Schwartz_nearly_certain_to_face_Corbett__insiders_say.html

Boyertown School Board OKs Preliminary Budget, Will Apply For Tax-Hike Exceptions

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United Stat...

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United States Public School Districts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Boyertown School Board members voted 7-1 to adopt a $95.58 million preliminary budget for 2013-14, but not without airing concerns about tax hikes.

Before passing the preliminary budget Tuesday, the board voted 6-2 to pursue exceptions to exceed the state’s Act 1 index, which would otherwise cap the tax increase at 2.1 percent.

Ruth A. Dierolf and Joseph Nichols voted against pursuing exceptions, which would allow tax hikes as high as 3 percent and 2.4 percent in Berks and Montgomery counties, respectively.

The increases would raise annual taxes on properties assessed at $100,000 by $67 in Berks and by $55 in Montgomery.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=452502

PennDOT Efficiency Drive Could Free Up Funds For Roadwork

Editor’s note:  Who ever thought we would see PennDOT and efficiency in the same sentence!

Extra taxes and fees aren’t the only tricks PennDOT has up its sleeves to round up more money for road projects.

The agency’s also turning to some less obvious solutions to its funding woes, such as mail-sorting machines and more durable highway paint.

PennDOT’s put together a list of technology investments, policy changes and other tweaks it thinks could save the state $50 million to $75 million a year and, in some cases, make the agency a little more pleasant to deal with.

The anticipated savings are a drop in the bucket compared with the $3.5 billion gap between available funding and the state’s transportation needs.  But it’s something.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=446586

‘We Have To Do Better’

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsyl...

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsylvania area. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

City statistics showing that the once-declining number of violent crimes in Reading began to edge up in 2012 drew a variety of reactions Thursday from city, county and community leaders.

Most agreed the trend means it is even more pressing to work on the follow-up ideas coming from last week’s crime summit.

Released Wednesday, the statistics also show crime is less than it was a decade ago.

But that brought a warning: Don’t accept the situation as the city’s new normal.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=445862