25 Years, 2 Executive Directors, 1 Mission for South Jersey’s Transportation System

2018 is a momentous year, as it marks South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization’s 25th anniversary as the region’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). Prior to its designation in July of 1993, three smaller MPOs served the urbanized areas of southern New Jersey. The idea for the merger was introduced by the leaders of the four counties and made effective under the orders of Governor Jim Florio. The basis of the merger was the idea that one, all-encompassing MPO would benefit from combined federal, state, and local resources, and thus be better able to create a stronger regional approach to solving transportation problems in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, and Salem counties.

Among the first tasks the SJTPO had to address was to create a vision. Mr. Tim Chelius, the founding Executive Director, who retired in 2016, stated, “Our immediate goal was to establish South Jersey as a full partner in the federal transportation planning and capital program process.” To accomplish this feat, SJTPO instituted a Policy Board, which became the governing body of the SJTPO, to comply with new measures within the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA). The Act, which was signed into law in December of 1991 by President George H. W. Bush, made changes to regional planning and policies, including giving more decision-making authority to local elected officials. Mr. Chelius noted the specific stipulations to the Policy Board included, “requiring 8 of 11 Policy Board members to be elected officials to guarantee that critical decisions [were] made at the highest levels.”

As SJTPO’s vision expanded and as years passed, the Organization found much success. On the capital programming side, many new projects were awarded funding. The establishment of a long-range transportation plan and a capital project selection process were readily received by the public. Furthermore, Mr. Chelius recalls when SJTPO was approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) as a grantee to receive funding for the robust series of safety education and enforcement programs SJTPO offered to the public. Mr. Chelius stated, “We did quite a lot of traffic safety advocacy outside of planning and engineering over the years and were recognized as a national leader among MPOs for that.” However, with all the high points also came several low points. Not only did SJTPO experience state shut-downs, there were also project delays and years of insecure federal funding. Mr. Chelius acknowledged the low points and stated, “those [were] part of the game, and we adapted.”

Fast forward to the present and SJTPO is now under the leadership of Ms. Jennifer Marandino. Prior to her role as Executive Director, Ms. Marandino served as Team Leader of Capital Programming & Safety. From the start, Mr. Chelius saw great potential in Ms. Marandino, who began in March of 2011. When asked about retiring and entrusting Ms. Marandino with the Executive Director position he held since the inception of SJTPO, Mr. Chelius stated, “I was very happy Jennifer was named Executive Director. She showed tremendous leadership skills and [was] a fabulous engineer.”

Ms. Marandino transitioned into her new role with ease and strived to make changes that would allow for growth and continued success within the Organization. When asked about significant changes made to the Organization, Ms. Marandino mentioned the addition of two new staff members in the latter half of 2017. Ms. Marandino went on to state, “With the two new hires, we were able to take advantage of the bright young talent within southern New Jersey, with both new staff members receiving their educational degrees from Rowan University.” The addition was even more significant because both hires were women, which was exciting, yet rare in a typically male-dominated profession. Two years into her role and Ms. Marandino already has a clear idea of what she hopes SJTPO can accomplish over the next five years. One major area of improvement Ms. Marandino hopes SJTPO will be successful in achieving is strengthening ties with the public in the four-county region. When further asked about this matter, Ms. Marandino explained, “SJTPO has done a good job publicizing our Safety Educational Outreach programs, led by two retired police officers, but we have not done a great job letting the public know who we are and the valuable role we play in our region.” The need to have the public involved in SJTPO’s affairs is vital because when the public thoroughly understands what SJTPO does and how transportation improvements will help them get to where they need to be more efficiently and safely, they are more likely to support the Organization’s efforts. Moreover, Ms. Marandino hopes SJTPO’s subregional partners will take full advantage of the funding sources available to southern New Jersey. The approximately $11.6 million in funding allocated to the region this year is only available through SJTPO. As an engineer, Ms. Marandino acknowledged, “I get excited for projects; when the years of planning are complete, and the public can start seeing the fruits of our labor.” Related to SJTPO subregional partners and the projects they propose, Ms. Marandino advocates for all future resurfacing projects to include components of safety, with the intent to reduce the number of fatal and serious injury crashes. To reduce crashes, Ms. Marandino stated, “Our regional partners will need to include proven safety countermeasures into their projects, balancing the needs of all users of the system.”

To conclude, over the last 25 years, SJTPO has made great progress in the southern New Jersey region. Much of this success can be attributed to Mr. Chelius, Mr. John Petersack, Ms. Monica Butler, and the late Mr. Chet Ambler, all founding members. These founding members were instrumental figures, who
established a trusted and progressive MPO. Despite Mr. Chelius’ retirement in 2016, he remains in touch with SJTPO staff and aids Ms. Marandino when necessary. Ms. Marandino is grateful to have Mr. Chelius’ guidance because as she notes, “We can continue to learn and grow, regardless of where we are in our career.” After all the changes and growth, both Mr. Chelius and Ms. Marandino are proud that the mission of the Organization has remained a constant: to create a transportation system based on regional collaboration that moves people and goods in a safe and efficient manner.

July 2018 CAC Meeting: Public Involvement Plan (PIP) Update

At the July 30, 2018 Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting, Melissa Melora, Public Outreach Planner at SJTPO, presented on the Public Involvement Plan (PIP) Update. Ms. Melora discussed the purpose of the PIP, which is to outline the requirements and best practices for SJTPO to follow to ensure that plans and programs include the public to the greatest, reasonable degree. Ms. Melora also noted the twelve Federal Guidances SJTPO must adhere to, such as SJTPO must “seek out and consider the needs of the people who are traditionally underserved by the existing transportation system, including low-income and minority households;” SJTPO must “demonstrate explicit consideration and response to public input;” and SJTPO must “comply with federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VI of Civil Rights Act of 1964, and various Executive Orders.” Furthermore, Ms. Melora made note of important dates for the update, as well as the outreach methods SJTPO staff will use to gather public input from the four-county region. At the end of the meeting, attendees were able to provide recommendations on how SJTPO could create a more meaningful and proactive public involvement process.

The above image depicts the schedule for the PIP Update. The update began in late July of 2018 and a completed product is expected to be approved by the SJTPO Policy Board in late March of 2019.

To stay informed on deadlines, upcoming workshops/public meetings, and Draft PIPs, please visit our PIP webpage. You can also get more information about the Citizens Advisory Committee, including meeting agendas and approved minutes, here.

 

Woodstown, Salem County Awarded Safe Routes to School Funding

As a small, relatively dense municipality with areas of significant vehicle traffic, Woodstown Borough Mayor Don Dietrich and Borough Council Members recognized the importance of a complete sidewalk network to ensure pedestrian safety. Although the Borough strived to create a safe, walkable community, especially in the vicinity of its two schools, the Mary S. Shoemaker Elementary School and the Woodstown Middle School, gaps existed due to a lack of funds.

Since pedestrian safety continued to be a significant talking point amongst Woodstown residents, officials applied to the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Grant program. The program, which is funded through the Federal Highway Administration’s Federal Aid Program and administered by the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) in partnership with SJTPO, is highly competitive, as there are often numerous applicants in need of infrastructure improvements. Nonetheless, the Woodstown Borough Safe Routes to School Grant application was selected, and awarded $237,000 in funding.

The funding will cover the cost of four sidewalk, crosswalk, and signalization improvement projects near the two schools. The Bailey Street (County Route 616) sidewalk is the first of the four projects to be completed. The improvement will complete the gaps in a 1,200-foot-long walkway from Lotus Avenue to the Borough Boundary, the preferred walking path of students living in nearby affordable housing units. The improvement will also include the installation of solar powered, manually activated flashing crossing signals.

The second project is located at the elementary school, where a crosswalk will be installed across East Millbrooke Avenue to deter students from jaywalking. Furthermore, this improvement will include the addition of two ADA (Americans With Disabilities) accessible ramps; a walkway leading towards the main entrance of the school; two solar powered, manually operated flashing school crossing signals; and various warning signs along the roadway.

The Alloway Road (County Route 603) sidewalk is the third project location. Currently, a 200-foot gap exists in the 610-foot-long walkway from Bailey Street to Liberty Avenue. The objective is to eliminate the gap to improve walkability in the area, especially as 14 of the 60 units in the Freedom Village subdivision house students. The existing crosswalks at Bailey Street and Alloway Road are ADA compliant, as they were recently improved by the Salem County Road Department.

The final improvement project addressed by the grant is located on Old Salem Road. There is a 380-foot gap in the 790-foot-long walkway situated on the west side of the road from Bailey Street to Liberty Avenue. Much like Alloway Road, Old Salem Road is used by students residing in the Freedom Village subdivision. Due to the existing gap in the sidewalk, students walk on the roadway and often jaywalk. These behaviors create a safety concern, as the area is heavily trafficked during the morning and evening rush hours, which coincide with the opening times of the schools and the end of after school activities.

Images of the improvements will be posted to SJTPO’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, when they are available.

 

SJTPO Celebrates 25 Years

South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization is celebrating its 25th anniversary as the region’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). SJTPO was founded on a vision that the region would be better served together than by the three smaller organizations that preceded it. In July of 1993, these organizations and the region came together to form the SJTPO. This has allowed for a much stronger, more united approach to resolving transportation issues in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, and Salem counties.

As a result of the solid groundwork laid by our founding members, SJTPO has made great progress in the region over the last 25 years. We have worked to develop strong partnerships within and outside of the region, create economic opportunities through infrastructure investments, give citizens a forum to voice their concerns, monitor and improve congestion and air quality in the region, and improve safety for all roadway users through both infrastructure improvements and an extensive array of public education programs. While our region has grown and changed, the mission of the Organization has not: to create a transportation system based on regional collaboration that moves people and goods in a safe and efficient manner.

We are proud to have achieved this milestone and look forward to the years to come and all of the opportunities that lie ahead for our region. We would like to recognize and thank our partners who play a vital role in the everyday operations and successes of the Organization. Also, be sure to look for #SJTPOTurns25 on Facebook and Twitter, as we celebrate this momentous event.

– SJTPO Staff

April 2018 CAC Meeting: Review of Technical Studies

At the April 30, 2018 Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting, SJTPO staff presented on current and upcoming technical studies, as well as internal efforts. One of the six current technical studies mentioned was the Ocean Drive (CR 621) Upgrades and Bridge Improvements Local Concept Development Study. Jennifer Marandino, the project manager, indicated that the study was initiated by Cape May County for three main bridges located along the Ocean Drive (CR 621) Causeway. Ms. Marandino went on to explain that the study was a significant undertaking for SJTPO, as it is one of the most expensive studies ever managed by SJTPO, costing over $1,000,000. To learn more about the study, please visit the project’s website.

After discussion on current studies, SJTPO staff offered an overview of seven upcoming technical studies. One of the studies noted was the Regional Bicycle and Pedestrian Trail Network – Communications and Marketing Plan. Alan Huff, the project manager, stated that SJTPO is eager to begin the study, as it aligns with the goal established in the 2016 regional transportation plan, Transportation Matters, “to develop and implement a vision for a regional trail network to connect major attractions within the region and neighboring regions.” The consultant for the study, TransPro Consulting, LLC., in partnership with the New Jersey Bike and Walk Coalition and Kayla Creative are anticipated to begin the project in June 2018.

The last topic on the agenda was to discuss internal efforts to be completed by staff members. One noteworthy effort is an update to the 2010 Pubic Involvement Plan (PIP). Melissa Melora, the Public Outreach Planner will manage this task. At the July 30, 2018 CAC meeting, SJTPO will present on public involvement, requirements, current practices, and hear from CAC members and the public on what they hope to see in the updated plan.

To stay informed on SJTPO technical studies, please visit our RFP webpage. You can also get more information about the Citizens Advisory Committee, as well as meeting agendas and approved minutes, here.

Over $13 Million in Local Safety Projects Advance for Funding

Through the Local Safety Program, SJTPO works with state and local agencies to address roadway safety issues by funding targeted safety improvements in the four-county SJTPO region. In fiscal year (FY) 2018, $13,009,250 in projects were funded through the federal Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP), which aims to reduce the number of fatalities and serious injuries (F&SI) on public roads through a data-driven, strategic approach to improving highway safety.

A total of sixteen project applications were submitted throughout the region to the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT). Once submitted, the applications went through a rigorous, multi-step review process by a Technical Review Committee (TRC), comprised of SJTPO staff and NJDOT Staff including Local Aid, the Bureau of Environmental Program Resources, and the Bureau of Traffic Data and Safety. Together, the Committee determined if the proposed improvement would be a good use of local safety dollars by assessing the safety need, that the need was being addressed by the proposed improvements, and that the benefit of the project outweighed the cost. The Committee also assured that the projects aligned with the investment goals jointly established by the FHWA, NJDOT, and the three New Jersey MPOs. The investment goals established by these entities targeted intersection, pedestrian, and lane departure crashes, as these represented the largest number of fatal and serious injury crashes occurring throughout the state.

On March 5, 2018, with only minor modifications, the Committee approved each of the project applications submitted by the SJTPO. Of the applications, one project will take place in Atlantic County, one in Cape May County, twelve in Cumberland County, and two in Salem County. In Atlantic County, safety improvements will focus on lane departure prevention in Egg Harbor Township through the installation of centerline rumble strips at a number of locations. The funding for this improvement project totals $618,195. Safety improvements in Cape May County will also focus on lane departure prevention through the installation of centerline rumble strips on various roadways throughout the County, totaling $736,351. In Cumberland County, ten projects will focus on intersection improvements through the installation of an all-way stop at various locations, primarily in rural areas, totaling $1,104,400. Two additional safety improvement projects in Cumberland County will focus on lane departure improvements at curves through the installation of a high friction surface treatment to the roadway, as well as regulatory and warning signage upgrades. The total funding for these improvements is $4,084,500. In Salem County, a total of $6,465,804 in funds will be allocated for pedestrian and intersection safety improvements in the City of Salem, on Walnut Street at the intersections of Smith Street, Wesley Street, and Church/Belden Street, where pedestrian crashes have occurred. And lastly, in Salem County, crashes at the Six Points intersection, at Garden Road, Parvin Mill Road, and Alvine Road in Pittsgrove Township, will be addressed through the construction of a modern roundabout.

The SJTPO is pleased to report that each of the projects selected by the Technical Review Committee satisfy, and even exceed the annual funding goal of $3,500,000 for the three investment strategies. The SJTPO is also hopeful that these projects, along with its safety educational outreach will help to reduce the number of crashes and fatalities that occur on the region’s roadways each year.

 

A Happy Retirement to John Petersack

At the March Policy Board meeting, Mr. John Petersack, who will retire on March 31, 2018, was recognized by Jennifer Marandino, the Executive Director of the South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization for his service to the Organization over the last 10 years.

Prior to his start in October of 2007, Mr. Petersack worked at the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), where he amassed a vast knowledge of the federal process, specifically regarding the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). Furthermore, while at NJDOT, Mr. Petersack served as the liaison between the Department and the three former Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) that served Southern New Jersey. As the liaison, Mr. Petersack was instrumental in merging the three MPOs into a single, more encompassing MPO, now known as the South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization.

Over the course of his time as the part-time Capital Program Specialist, Mr. Petersack was fully committed to SJTPO’s subregional partners. Not only did he impart his knowledge of the federal process onto SJTPO’s partners, he also sought for the allocation of additional federal funds for the region.

It is truly a bittersweet moment to have a founding member of the SJTPO retire, especially as the Organization is celebrating 25 years this year. Nonetheless, all of us here at SJTPO wish Mr. Petersack a happy, healthy, and long retirement.

Learn about “Smart” Traffic Signals from our presentation to the CAC

At the October 30, 2017 Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting, NJDOT and SJTPO staff presented on “smart” traffic signals. Kelly McVeigh, Principal Engineer at NJDOT, provided CAC members and the Public with information regarding the varying traffic signal technologies used throughout the State. The presentation included the difference between “traditional” and “smart” traffic signals, with a stronger focus on the where, why, and how of “smart” traffic signals. You can view Mr. McVeigh’s presentation here.

Andrew Tracy, Transportation Engineer at SJTPO, provided an overview of SJTPO’s Regional Traffic Signal Improvement Program. Mr. Tracy discussed the methodology of the Program, which includes data collection, screening, modeling and performance measurement, and project development. Mr. Tracy also noted that each of these elements are ultimately needed to secure capital programming. You can view Mr. Tracy’s presentation here.

You can get more information about the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) as well as meeting agendas and approved minutes here.

Cape May County Complete Streets Summit Excellence Award

Complete Streets Summit awardees, Leslie Gimeno, Planning Director at the Cape May County Planning Department (left) and Mayor Pickolycky of Woodbine, NJ (right) pose for a picture with Mike Russo, Assistant Commissioner – Capital Investment, Planning and Grant Administration at NJDOT (middle).

On Tuesday, October 24, 2017, the Complete Streets Summit was held at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. At the event, Leslie Gimeno, Planning Director at the Cape May County Planning Department accepted the 2017 Complete Streets Summit Excellence Award.

The award honored the initiative set forth by the Cape May County Planning Board and the Cape May County Open Space Board for the development of a Regional Bike Network in the County. The initiative was supported by 16 local municipalities, managers of recreational assets, cycling advocates, as well as the SJTPO.

Discussion for a Regional Bike Network began in 2013 when the Open Space Program, established in 1989, expanded on its original functions of Farmland Preservation and land acquisition, to act as a funding source for Historic Preservation and Recreational Development programs. Representatives from the County’s local municipalities met and collectively decided to implement an initiative that would connect small-scale bike projects to create a more expansive network of trails, paths, and lanes that would grow and support the tourism and ecotourism industry present in the County.

Representatives from local municipalities came together to discuss potential project ideas that stemmed from the needs and wants of the public.

A Special Funding Round was an integral part of the Regional Bike Network. The Special Funding Round encouraged municipalities to submit applications for bike-related projects by funding 50% of Engineering and Design costs, as well as 100% of capital construction costs. As a result of the Special Funding Round, $3.2 million was awarded to five applicants. Of the five applicants, two were of major significance as they closed a 10-mile gap in the trail network located in the central part of the County.

The SJTPO staff would like to once again congratulate Leslie Gimeno and Cape May County for their efforts related to the implementation of Complete Streets, and for making the area’s roads safer for all roadway users.

An article on the Regional Bike Network is available to read, here. The article can be found on pages 6 and 7.

A video on the Regional Bike Network is available as well, and can be viewed, here.

Final Draft of Transportation Matters – A Plan For South Jersey Now Available

Final Draft Cover 500

SJTPO has released an updated Final Draft of Transportation Matters – A Plan for South Jersey to reflect comments received during public review. This plan will shape South Jersey’s long-term transportation future, setting the vision, goals, and strategies that will guide the region’s transportation decision making for the next 24 years. More information here

SJTPO will bring this Final Draft Plan to the SJTPO Policy Board for action at its Monday, July 25, 2016 meeting.