The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) have announced that they are partnering with Penn State University (Penn State) to commence site planning and design for a new state-of-the-art facility to benefit emergency responders, transportation organizations and research institutions.
The aim of the new Pennsylvania Safety, Transportation and Research Track (PennSTART) facility is to address safety, training and research needs in six key areas: traffic incident management (TIM); tolling and intelligent transportation systems (ITS) technology; work zones; commercial vehicles; transit vehicles; and connected and automated vehicles (CAVs).
Examples of technologies for which safety and operational testing, as well as training, could be conducted at the facility include:
• TIM training;
• Testing and hands-on training for new ITS, tolling and signal equipment;
• Safe, simulated training for higher-speed and mobile work-zone operations;
• Safety certification training opportunities;
• Simulated environments for temporary traffic control device testing and evaluation;
• Smart truck-parking applications and other opportunities for commercial-vehicle technology partnerships;
• Controlled environments to test various CAV technologies for transit buses, infrastructure equipment and other applications.
The need for better and collaborative TIM training, a joint operational policy, and other recommendations were identified in a TIM report by the Pennsylvania State Transportation Advisory Committee.
In addition, 2018 Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) data shows that more than 54,000 emergency/incident responders in Pennsylvania need to be trained on TIM compared to roughly 9,000 who have already been trained. A feasibility study reviewing a TIM training center was conducted by the PTC with funding assistance through the Pennsylvania State Transportation Innovations Council, a collaboration between PennDOT, the PTC, FHWA, and other transportation stakeholders. The feasibility study ultimately identified the need for a safety, training and research facility and served as the pathway for the PennSTART partnership.
The PennSTART facility represents the next in a series of steps that PennDOT, the PTC and other partners have taken to improve TIM. In 2016, the agencies held a TIM Summit with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, Pennsylvania State Police and participants from dozens of responder groups to discuss and establish policies and partnerships to improve TIM in Pennsylvania.
As a result, the Pennsylvania Traffic Incident Management Enhancement initiative was formed in 2017, and a joint operational policy outlining training, technology, quick incident clearance principles, and more was developed.
“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,” said PennDOT secretary and PTC chairman Leslie S Richards. “PennSTART will provide Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic region with access to innovative technologies for testing and education purposes.”
Penn State’s vice president for research, Neil Sharkey, commented, “We are pleased to partner with PennDOT and the PTC to begin exploring potential sites and design specifications for this much needed facility. As envisioned, the PennSTART facility would provide a wonderful facility for teaching and research, while ensuring the safety of our highway workers, improving traffic flow, and advancing safe vehicle automation.”