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Pa. transportation agencies, Penn State team up on new facility

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A rendering of a portion of PennSTART
A rendering of a portion of PennSTART - (Photo / )

PennDOT, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and Penn State are coming together to design a "state-of-the-art" transportation research and training center.

The project was announced Tuesday by PennDOT secretary and Turnpike Commission chair Leslie S. Richards at the Pennsylvania Automated Vehicle Summit.

The purpose of the project, dubbed the Pennsylvania Safety, Transportation and Research Track, or PennSTART, is to address safety, training and research needs in six key areas: traffic incident management; tolling and intelligent transportation systems technology; work zones; commercial vehicles; transit vehicles; and connected and automated vehicles.

"As we make advancements in highway safety and transportation technologies, we need to be sure that our teams, researchers and students and first-responder partners have as much knowledge as possible about these tools as they develop," Richards said.

As seen in renderings of the facility, PennSTART's main component will be a large, elliptical track featuring various traffic configurations, like a roundabout, an overpass, intersections, numerous lane setups, including a high-speed testing section, and ample space for truck parking. 

Analysis of potential facility sites and design plans, including the exact size of the track, are underway. A decison on the location is expected in the next year, according to the PennSTART website. The website also states that the facility is projected to be operational by 2020.

A rendering of another portion of PennSTART
A rendering of another portion of PennSTART - ()

The need for more comprehensive traffic incident management training was first identified in a 2014 report by the Pennsylvania State Transportation Advisory Committee, according to Erin Waters-Trasatt, a PennDOT spokesperson. The Turnpike Commission then conducted a feasibility study through 2017 that paved the way for PennSTART’s development, Waters-Trasatt said.

According to 2018 Federal Highway Administration data, only 9,000 emergency responders in Pennsylvania have been trained in traffic incident management, while another 54,000 should have such training. PennSTART aims to improve that training availability, especially in a hands-on capacity.

Waters-Trasatt is aware of just one other similar facility in the U.S., in the South. PennSTART's amenities could provide research opportunities for both the public and private sectors throughout the Mid-Atlantic, Waters-Trasatt said.

Cost of the project will become more clear as the design process progresses, Waters-Trasatt said. The three-way partnership offers a variety of sources for funding, as well as the possibility for public-private collaboration, she said. 

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Becca Oken-Tatum

Becca Oken-Tatum

Becca Oken-Tatum is the web editor for the Central Penn Business Journal. She also coordinates and writes for CPBJ's monthly Young Professionals e-newsletter. Email her questions, comments and tips at btatum@cpbj.com. Follow her on Twitter at @becca0t.

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