Monthly Archives: April 2010

Special Legislative Session Scheduled for Tuesday May 4

As reported this past Wednesday in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Governor Rendell has called for a special legislative session to discuss potential solutions to the transportation funding gap that is hovering right around $470 million.

Three weeks after the Federal Highway Administration rejected the PennDOT/Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission joint application to toll I-80, there is incredible uncertainty about how to handle such an enormous setback in transportation funding in the midst of increasing transportation demands.

Tuesday’s session will give Legislators a chance to discuss potential solutions.

Rendell has said he would again urge lawmakers to impose a gross-profits tax on oil companies and might again propose leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike to a private operator.

Other options mentioned in the article include tolling I-95, increasing the gas tax, increasing registration fees, and increasing real estate transfer taxes.  These suggestions are coming from both sides of the aisle, making it clear that this is an issue that has everyone concerned.

What are other possible solutions that could help us to deal with this transportation funding gap? Although the current political climate is cold to the idea of raising taxes, will the severity of this situation sway public opinion in favor of increasing the gas tax?

What do you think about the prospect of leasing our highways?

Regional Governance Bill Gaining Attention

The Patriot News reported yesterday on a bill introduced by State Rep. Thomas Caltagirone that proposes to merge many of Pennsylvania’s municipalities together — essentially moving the system of governance from the municipal level to the county level. While many are saying that the bill will not stand a chance in passing through the legislature (it barely had any co-sponsors when the story broke yesterday), some are calling it a much-overdue piece of legislation.

The bill is certainly in favor of regional collaboration. The counties would absorb all municipal governance — meaning there would only be a countywide-structure of governance. While the bill may not seem popular within Harrisburg, many commentators at the Patriot News lauded it as a good idea, stating that the current system is “making the residents of the Commonwealth go broke.” One commentator stated: “The model is right next door in Maryland. They have county centered government, and they seem to do very well in managing their affairs.”

The Express Times editorial staff came out in support of the bill in today’s paper, stating:

The first step is to admit local government has a problem in structure. Then begin tying like-minded communities together, to see how government can work without giving up local voices. It’s not as if we’re rebuilding a society, as in Iraq or Afghanistan, where sectarian violence is the norm. Our system already works, just in a grossly inefficient way.

Personally, I become overwhelmed just looking at a map of Pennsylvania’s municipalities. The map below is featured in the Brookings report Back to Prosperity, A Competitive Agenda for Renewing Pennsylvania (which, as some of you know, was the impetus for RenewLV).

Is this really efficient?

Of course, convincing municipalities to give up local control will be difficult. But this bill takes a step in the right direction by creating a dialogue about this important matter. And the legislation does not call for municipalities to give up their local culture and charm. It merely examines an antiquated system of governance and asks “Can’t we do better?”

If you’re interested in the topic of municipal governance and would like to stay up to date on this matter, please take a second to sign up for RenewLV’s E-mail list by visiting our Join Us page. And please post your thoughts on this matter below. I would love to hear what the community has to say about this legislation.

More than Just Fuel Efficiency

Michael Lewyn at Planetizen makes a very interesting point on his recent blog post — that perhaps new car innovations won’t be the best way to reduce transportation costs (at least for now). Lewyn states that awaiting “the technological miracle of fuel efficiency” may not be most effective, since the gas of price is likely to continue to rise. It seems that those who argue that more fuel-efficient cars will beget more affordable transportation are assuming that gas prices will remain steady through the years. (Lewyn aptly named his post “Waiting for a Miracle.”)

The Urban Land Institute picked up on this blog post to highlight the need for better land-use practices across this nation. After all, if living spaces are near work places and amenities (grocery stores, etc.), there will be less of a need for daily driving. Moreover, densely populated areas are likely to be close to public transportation, which will also help cut down on vehicle use (and provide more transportation choices for all people).

Are you convinced that more fuel-efficient vehicles are the key to cutting costs in the future? Or do we need something more?

League of Women Voters (NorCo) Candidates Forum

The Lehigh County and Northampton County chapters of the League of Women Voters have been great partners of Renew Lehigh Valley on many of our initiatives. The involved members of both chapters have helped with past RenewLV events and their long-standing support for the Lehigh Valley Health Department has been pivotal in pushing the Regional Health Initiative along. Indeed, community education is the League’s forte.

In this spirit of community education, I would like to highlight an upcoming event hosted by the League of Women Voters in Northampton County. The League is sponsoring a Candidates Forum on Tuesday, May 4th, at 7:00 pm at the Wind Gap Fire Station, 111 North Broadway in Wind Gap. The forum will feature the candidates in the 137th State Legislative District in the May 18th Primary.

137th State Legislative District candidates will include –
Democrats: Charles Dertinger, Frank Scagliotta
Republicans: Joe Emrick, Donald Albanese, Nick Sabatine

The 137th District is currently represented by Richard Grucela, who is not running for re-election. It includes the boroughs of Bangor, East Bangor, Nazareth, Portland, Roseto, Stockertown and Tatamy, and the townships of Forks, Lower Mount Bethel, Palmer, Upper Mount Bethel, Upper Nazareth and Washington.

There will be an opportunity for questions from the audience, so come and let your voices be heard!

Directions to the Wind Gap Fire Co.: From the Wind Gap exit of Route 33, turn north onto Route 512 (Broadway) and go almost 1.2 miles north. The fire company is on the right, across from the post office and just past the intersection of the Turkey Hill traffic light.

For information, call the League of Women Voters – Northampton County at 610-252-1339.

Any questions you would like to ask these candidates? Post them below and we’ll pass on the message to the League.

Spotlight on the Lehigh River

The Morning Call is running a series on the Lehigh River, recounting its history and the efforts toward watershed protection. Many in the Lehigh Valley consider the river to be a distinct part of their childhood. It seems that spending time by the Lehigh River was a common activity in the region. But it wasn’t always the safest river to play in — that is, until local activists got involved.

The Call reports:

It was just about 40 years ago, around the time of the first Earth Day, that environmental concerns translated into action across the country and along the Lehigh. Government and public activism, the demise of heavy industry and natural cleansing began undoing decades of abuse, and the Valley’s most significant natural resource underwent a remarkable turnaround.

Today, the Lehigh River is healthier than it’s been in any living person’s memory. Bald eagles, osprey and herons now populate its banks. Trout, bass, muskellunge and the bugs on which they feed can be found in abundance. Canoeists, kayakers and rafters routinely ply the waters.

The article also touches upon the much-debated issue of drilling for Marcellus Shale in the Commonwealth.

Proposals to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation around the Lehigh’s headwaters in Wayne County also present a serious challenge to the river. The extraction process uses huge amounts of water, and in places where wells already have been drilled, waterways have been seriously degraded.

”I never thought we’d have [a threat] up there,” said Lehigh River Stocking Association President Matt MacConnell.

But the Lehigh now has many eyes watching out for its welfare. MacConnell’s organization has a water quality monitor that provides real-time data posted on the Internet. The conservancy works with an alphabet soup of state and federal agencies to protect the watershed. Water-dependent commercial businesses and environmental groups hold the Army corps accountable for long-term water flow, which is important for fishing, rafting and the river’s overall health.

Do you have fond memories of the Lehigh River? If so, share them below.

(Relatedly, if you’re interested in learning about RenewLV’s Regional Water Initiative, visit our website and sign up as a supporter on our Join Us page.)

Car-Free Challenge

I came across this post today in the blogosphere and thought it was interesting enough to share on here.  Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling reported on the curently-underway Car-Free Diet Challenge being administered by Arlington County Commuter Services (Arlington, VA).

The premise: two individuals, skeptical of car commuting, undertake a 30 day car-free challenge. The individuals use a car-free calculator throughout the process to account for money savings, weight loss, and even CO2 reductions.

The official Challenge website and blog will provide periodical video updates of the two participants — and you can already check out the first video.

Would any of you in the Lehigh Valley undertake a car-free challenge? The transportation network in Arlington is much more robust than here in the Lehigh Valley, as there is ready access to a subway/light-rail system there. In turn, this makes it easier to commute within the greater Northern Virginia/Washington DC region. But I imagine that many of those who live and work within the Valley’s cities could undertake such a challenge. I would need a better bicycle and a stronger will in order to get over Wyandotte hill five days a week.

Post your thoughts on this challenge below.

(PS: If you didn’t get a chance to attend RenewLV’s Regional Transportation Forum on April 19th, the video of the forum can be viewed on the WLVT/PBS39 website.)

Building One PA event postponed

The Building One PA event, previously scheduled for April 28th at Allentown Symphony Hall, has been postponed. The exact date has yet to be decided but should be sometime in May. As soon as we recieve the updated information, we will be sure to let you know!

Happy Earth Day in the Lehigh Valley

Hope many of you took a LANTA bus today or biked to work (or, at least, considered it).

In case you are looking for a great way to celebrate Earth Day 2010 in the Lehigh Valley, the Wildlands Conservancy is organizing the Great Lehigh Valley Clean-Up at five different locations this Saturday, April 24. The five locations are: Pool Wildlife Sanctuary (Emmaus), Canal Park (Allentown), Sand Island (Bethlehem), Freemansburg Island, or Hugh Moore Park (Easton).

The event starts at 9 a.m. and should be over around noon. Be sure to bring a pair of work gloves and to wear appropriate clothing and sturdy shoes or boots.

This project is organized in conjunction with the Great American Clean-Up of Pennsylvania. Sign up here for the event.

For more information, please contact Elizabeth McKinney, Development Manager, at 610.965.4397, ext. 126 or emckinney@wildlandspa.org.

For 35 years, the Wildlands Conservancy has served its mission to “preserve, protect, restore, and enhance the land, water, ecological, and recreational resources of the Lehigh Valley and the Lehigh River valley” and to “foster responsible stewardship of our resources through education of our youth and by raising the environmental awareness of the general public.”

Happy Earth Day, Lehigh Valley.

LVEDC Receives Major Brownfield Redevelopment Grant

We found out yesterday that the U.S. Environmental Protection Department (EPA) awarded a $1 million grant toward brownfield redevelopment, through the Lehigh Valley Land Recycling Initiative (LVLRI) of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC). The grant will be used for site assessment, and will include testing of soil and groundwater and cleanup planning.

The Express Times reports:

There are several high-profile sites being eyed for such testing.

“Possible sites to receive assessment support include Neuweiler Brewery on the waterfront in Allentown or the Black Diamond Building in (South Side) Easton or the former municipal incinerator site in Bangor and the Thomas Iron Works in Hellertown,” LVLRI coordinator Holly Edinger said in the statement.

LVEDC has been awarded EPA assessment grants on four previous occasions in the amount of $200,000 each. Nationally it is one of only six agencies to receive EPA Coalition Grants in the amount of $1 million, the LVEDC release states.

The projects funded by this grant will make these sites viable for private development and for “new businesses, new homes and new jobs for American workers,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

A big congratulations to LVEDC and the LVLRI.

Reminder: RenewLV Regional Transportation Forum Today

This is a reminder that RenewLV’s Regional Transportation Forum is TODAY, Monday, April 19 at the Historic Hotel Bethlehem (437 Main Street, Bethlehem).

The program begins at 6:30 p.m. with an informal reception at 5:30 p.m.

This community forum is an opportunity to learn about the prospects for restoring passenger rail service in the Lehigh Valley, as well as to discuss how a balanced, multimodal transportation system can help promote economic development, the continued revitalization of the region’s core communities, and sustainable growth in the Lehigh Valley.

The keynote speaker for the forum is David Taylor, Senior Vice-President and National Director for Sustainable Transportation Solutions at HDR. The forum will include a Presentation of Findings from the New NJT/SYSTRA Regional Transportation Study (commissioned by the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation and Lehigh and Northampton Counties), followed by a Panel Discussion and Q&A on how the Lehigh Valley Moves Forward on Transportation and Transit-Oriented Development. Moderated by RenewLV Co-Chair Deana Zosky, the panel will include:

  • David Taylor – Senior Vice-President, National Director for Sustainable Transportation Solutions, HDR
  • Bob McNamara – Senior Policy Representative for Smart Growth, National Association of REALTORS
  • Armand Greco – Executive Director, LANTA
  • Joe Gurinko – Chief Transportation Planner, Lehigh Valley Planning Commission
  • Adam Krom – Philadelphia-based Transportation Planner

This event is presented by the National Association of REALTORS and the Lehigh Valley Association of REALTORS (LVAR). Event sponsors also include the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation and the Lehigh Valley Partnership.

The event is free and open to the public. RSVP is suggested, but not required.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Beata Bujalska at bbujalska@renewlv.org or 484.893.1062 (w) or 732.809.8817 (c).

We hope you’ll be able to join us for the informal reception at 5:30 p.m. in the balcony of the Grand Ballroom, followed by the full program in the Grand Ballroom at 6:30 p.m.

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