Aging pop. affecting long-range planning

Looking 25 years into the future can be challenging, but, when it comes to the transportation needs of northwest Pennsylvania, the Northwest Commission Rural Planning Organization (RPO) is doing the best it can.

A public meeting was held on Tuesday night at the Warren County Courthouse for the RPO to gain public feedback.

County Planner Dan Glotz said the state requires municipalities through their RPO to conduct long-range transportation planning looking out 25 years.

Warren County is a member of the the Northwest Commission which, along with Forest, Clarion, Venango and Crawford counties, receives a lump sum payment for projects from the state which are distributed among the region.

“This is an undertaking that the region takes on every four to five years,” said Brian Funkhouser, with consulting firm CDM Smith, said, indicating that the last update to the plan was completed in 2007.

While the project will ultimately deduct the region’s transportation needs, Funkhouser said that “it is a project plan but more importantly it is a policy plan.”

He explained that one of the new aspects in this round of planning is the use of performance markers to answer the question ‘how well is our transportation system performing in regard to safety… mobility… congestion.'”

A second public session is likely to occur later this year so the focus of Tuesday’s session was laying out, in part, the demographic information of the region.

“The composition of the region’s population is changing,” said Funkhouser. “Our overall population is getting older, older than it’s ever been before.”

To expand on that point, he said 18 percent of Warren County’s population is over the age of 65 but that projections have that ratio jumping to one in three by 2040.

“We need to make sure our system is more responsive than it has been in the past” for seniors, he said.

But overall population has remained flat in the region since 1960, he explained, noting that the projections through 2040 “paint a similar picture. Things here are very stable.”

“The highway network is the backbone,” he said of the nearly 7,000 miles of roadway in the region. “(There is) not a whole lot of road building going on.”

A crucial element of their effort in understanding transportation needs is assessing safety and Funkhouser said that “crash rates here in the northwest region are less than the state crash rates overall.”

He surmised that could be because of decreased driving among the elderly and the price of gas.

“Fatality rates are higher than the than the state average,” he added, noting that is “typical in a rural area.

But with fewer people on the roads, state revenue rooted in the gas tax falls.

“The RPO and PennDOT have been asked to do more with less,” he said. “In Pennsylvania, we’ve finally come to the conclusion that help is not going to come from Washington.”