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PennDOT wants county contract

June 20, 1999|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials last week said they want a closer relationship with Franklin County on transportation issues.

Deputy Secretary for Planning Larry King offered the County Commissioners a chance to enter into a contractual agreement with the department that could mean more funding and local autonomy for transportation projects.

King said the department began re-evaluating its relationships with local governments in 1996 when it had to cut $2.2 billion in highway and bridge projects.

"We found ourselves with a program that was over-subscribed financially," he said.

As a result, he said the department has tried to develop a transportation program "that was not a wish list, but deliverable."

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Franklin County is among a handful of counties in the state that are not part of a metropolitan transportation organization or local development district, King said. For planning purposes, the county is a rural or small area.

Thomas A. Kotay, of the department's Center for Program Development, said a similar agreement with neighboring Adams County resulted in about $40,000 in extra state and federal funding for local transportation planning.

The basis for improvements to highways, bridges and transit projects is still the department's 12-year plan, King said. If the county enters into a contract, however, the state would help prioritize projects and identify state and federal funding sources on an annual basis.

Kotay said a contract would provide a way of transferring state and federal funds to the county for planning. He said a framework for planning would be left up to the county.

"We don't have a prescription," said Kotay.

The county would be expected to form a committee to help define transportation needs, but its composition would be left to the commissioners.

That could include more involvement in the planning process by townships and boroughs, he said. County Senior Planner Sherri Clayton suggested the County Planning Commission could assume that role.

"I think there's a trend to closely link land planning and transportation planning," said the department's District 8 Design Services Engineer Michael Gillespie. Municipalities can adopt land use ordinances that better mesh with roadway projects, he said.

Additional funding and a planning process more open to local input are pluses, said G. Warren Elliott, chairman of the County Board of Commissioners. The state is also offering technical upgrades and assistance in updating the transportation component of the county's comprehensive plan.

"If it's one that ultimately provides more local control, I think the proposal would fare well with us," Elliott said.

Elliott said the commissioners want to review sample contracts before making a decision. Transportation officials set no deadline for a decision.

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