Unified Work Program
Mercer County Transportation Planning
Unified Work Program
SHENANGO VALLEY AREA TRANSPORTATION STUDY
Fiscal Year 2022-2024 Unified Planning Work Program
The Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP) establishes an outline of work tasks to be undertaken by the Shenango Valley Area Transportation Study Metropolitan Planning Organization (SVATS MPO) during a two-year timeframe. The linked UPWP covers the timeframe from July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2024. (This July-to-June timeframe coincides with the MPO and Commonwealth’s fiscal year). The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR 450.104) defines the UPWP as:
…a statement of work identifying the planning priorities and activities to be carried out within a metropolitan planning area. At a minimum, a UPWP includes a description of the planning work and resulting products, who will perform the work, time frames for completing the work, the cost of the work, and the source(s) of funds.
Federal law and regulations require that any urbanized areas with a population over 50,000 people form a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). This group provides a forum for local and state officials and other stakeholders to work cooperatively to maintain a cooperative, comprehensive, and continuing transportation process. In Mercer County, the SVATS MPO is the organization which has the responsibility to plan and program transportation projects receiving federal funding within the county’s borders. The SVATS MPO has undertaken this duty since its inception over forty years ago, in 1981. The SVATS MPO is among the smallest MPOs in Pennsylvania in terms of overall funding.
Mercer County was combined with the Youngstown region’s Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) after the 2000 U.S. Census. As a result, Mercer County is part of a Transportation Management Area (TMA), which is defined as having an urbanized area of over 200,000 citizens. Mercer County’s 48 municipalities, in total, comprise a population of just over 110,000 according to the 2020 U.S. Census, making Mercer County a small portion of the overall MSA.
Roles and Responsibilities of the MPO
Federal metropolitan planning regulations specify the roles and responsibilities of MPOs, including development of a long-range transportation plan (LRTP), a short- range Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), and public involvement efforts.
The current LRTP, TIP, and all other documents are compliant with current 23 CFR 450 Planning Regulations and 2015’s Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) legislation. In late 2021, the U.S. Legislature passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)/Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) to replace the FAST Act. Going forward, all transportation-related planning in Mercer County will be based on the guidelines and regulations of the IIJA/BIL as they become available.
MPO Committee Structure and Responsibilities
Two committees direct the work accomplished by MPO staff. The larger of the two committees is the Coordinating Committee. This group is responsible for ensuring the maintenance of planning eligibility for state and federal grants and the maintenance of both the Long-Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) and the more short-range Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). This committee meets on a quarterly basis (additional meetings are occasionally held, if needed) to vote on any action items that come before the MPO and to discuss transportation-related issues in Mercer County. The MPO has 25 members, the maximum currently allowed according to our MPO’s Bylaws. Most members are municipal-based, though the county, the county’s transit provider, and PennDOT District 1-0 and CPDM staffs have membership as well. Although it’s the responsibility of each member to appoint representatives, the SVATS MPO continues to promote equal representation throughout the County and encourages members to appoint representatives reflective of their community/agency and who have a particular interest in transportation. An initiative to more directly encourage active and informed representatives began in 2021. The Coordinating Committee is comprised of twenty-five members, including three cities, six boroughs, one town, 11 townships, two PennDOT members, the county transit agency, and Mercer County.
Also notable is the long list of other (non-voting) stakeholders involved with the MPO. This includes federal partners (FHWA and FTA), various public-service agencies within the region, legislative officials and their aides, non-voting municipal officials, representatives from civil engineering and planning firms, advocacy groups, and members of the general public.
The other MPO committee is the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), which has the duty to study and report on technical aspects as directed by the Coordinating Committee and to initiate studies and recommendations on technical aspects in pursuance of the objectives of the UPWP. This committee meets on an as-needed basis. The TAC is currently comprised of twelve members.
In addition to the aforementioned MPO committees, ad hoc committees are created when various transportation planning projects are underway. These include but are not limited to corridor safety studies, transportation and land use studies, and data collection-related planning efforts. During such processes, steering committees are established to help guide the planning process. At a minimum, representation on committees consists of MPO and PennDOT District 1-0 staffs. Any time a study is directly related to a municipality (or group of municipalities), representatives from these political jurisdictions are also asked to be on steering committees. On many planning efforts, particularly those “bigger-picture” efforts, PennDOT CPDM staff and FHWA staff have also been involved through steering committee involvement.
Several changes have been made in the UPWP to reflect PennDOTs Actions and Procedures FY 2022-2024 guidance, developed alongside FHWA and FTA. Overall, the organization of this UPWP’s work tasks is relatively similar to the prior UPWP’s (2020-2022) organization, which constituted a significant redesign of the UPWP’s work tasks. Moderate consolidation and re-organization of subtasks allows for more logical and streamlined framework that better-reflects the work completed by the MPO staff. The linked UPWP includes a detailed description of each of the four tasks (Plans and Programs, Land Use/Transportation Linkages/Modernization, Data Collection and Analysis, and Program Management), and the subtasks within each of these categories.