Transportation safety a key issue at upcoming Penn State conference

University Park, Pa. -- The federal government has provided $1.33 billion in stimulus dollars to date toward transportation improvements in Pennsylvania. Using these funds to improve public safety is critical, according to experts. Penn State will address this topic and related issues at the 2009 Transportation Engineering and Safety Conference, to be held from Dec. 9 to 11, at the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel.

Highway safety remains a critical subject in the U.S., said Martin Pietrucha, conference organizer and professor of Civil Engineering at Penn State.

“While the number of fatalities has gone down, there are still -- and this is something the public is not really aware of -- over 3.5 million serious injuries every year related to highway collisions,” said Pietrucha, who also heads the Larson Transportation Institute, an interdisciplinary research unit of Penn State’s College of Engineering.

In his opinion, too much stimulus money has been spent on repaving projects, instead of engineering design, operations or safety improvements.

“Repaving stuff is just putting a band aid on the system,” Pietrucha said. Focusing on planning instead “would make meaningful improvements in system capacity, alleviate congestion, and reduce accidents and injuries.”

Pietrucha views Penn State’s conference as an opportunity to help direct more resources toward these kinds of long-lasting improvements.

Transportation engineer Brian St. John, of McCormick Taylor Inc. in Harrisburg, agrees. He has attended the conference regularly since its inception in 1995, to keep on top of current issues with a network of peers. This year, he’s looking for insights into the future of his field.

“With the current state of funding for transportation at both the state and federal levels,” St. John said. “I hope to gain a better understanding of how we as professionals can make sure the right projects move forward.”

One scheduled session on the agenda -- “The Future of Transportation Funding” -- is designed to do just that. The presenter, Renee Sigel, is division administrator for the Federal Highway Administration in Pennsylvania.

“Safety should always be at the forefront of all transportation disciplines,” said Sigel. “The public is demanding we do things faster, do them cheaper, and do them greener than ever before. That means we're going to have to come up with innovative ways to design, build and pay for projects.”

Sigel points out that almost all of the 293 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) projects in Pennsylvania involve improvements in public safety. At least 430 bridges, many structurally deficient, will be rehabilitated, restored or replaced. Of the 780 miles of roadway being rehabilitated, many areas will see improved safety features like guide rails, traffic calming devices, pavement markings and improved signage. Additional ARRA-funded projects will improve roadway safety
through improved signal timing, installation of ITS devices, improved markings at railroad crossings and adding median barriers.

“This conference provides a wonderful opportunity to bring together people in safety, operations, design and planning who can really make a difference in Pennsylvania to improve the safety of our highways,” Sigel said.

For more information on the 2009 Transportation Engineering and Safety Conference, visit http://www.conferences.psu.edu/transportation online.

Penn State Conferences plans and manages more than 300 programs each year, with enrollments of nearly 45,000. The programs represent the diversity and strength of Penn State’s academic colleges and provide opportunities for many individuals - scholars and scientists; business and organization clients; youth, families, pre-college students and seniors; current Penn State students and professionals in health care, education, workforce development and other areas -- to learn about the latest scholarship, research and developments in their fields or participate in enriching learning experiences. Penn State Outreach, the largest unified outreach organization in American higher education. Penn State Outreach serves more than five million people each year, delivering more than 2,000 programs to people in all 67 Pennsylvania counties, all 50 states and 114 countries worldwide.

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Last Updated December 07, 2009