What is a Highway Occupancy Permit?
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is responsible for all right-of-way associated with state roads in Pennsylvania. In order to obtain access to that right-of-way for driveways, local roads, or utilities, a Highway Occupancy Permit (HOP) must be obtained from PennDOT. The HOP ensures that state design requirements are satisfied in the design for safety, consistency, legality, construction practices, and smooth traffic operations. Driveways and local roads are regulated under PA Code Title 67 Chapter 441, and utilities are regulated under PA Code Title 67, Chapter 459. There are many additional design manuals, publications, and forms that specify requirements for facilities within the right-of-way.
What process is followed in obtaining a Highway Occupancy Permit for a driveway?
The first step in preparing a Highway Occupancy Permit (HOP) application is a Traffic Impact Study Scoping Meeting Application, which documents basic information about the proposed project including the location, type of development, size of the development, and traffic information. Based on the application, PennDOT decides (with input from the municipality) if a scoping meeting is necessary. Most projects will need a scoping meeting. The scoping meeting typically takes place at the proposed site with the applicant, the applicant’s engineer, PennDOT staff, municipal officials and engineers, and (if relevant) transit authority staff or county planning commission staff. At the meeting all concerns are heard up front, and decisions are made about how the application process will proceed.
At this time, if required, a Transportation Impact Study and a sketch of improvements will be prepared by the engineer and submitted to PennDOT for review. The PennDOT HOP application process is now electronic, so the client will be asked to sign a form authorizing the engineer to submit the application in the Electronic Permitting System on their behalf.
Once the improvements determined in the Transportation Impact Study are agreed to by PennDOT the engineer prepared HOP construction plans and supporting documentation, which may include stormwater analysis, signal designs, legal documentation, warrant analyses, detour plans, right-of-way plans, and escrow and insurance documentation, among others. It frequently takes several submissions to reach concurrence with PennDOT, the applicant, and the municipality. Once PennDOT is satisfied a permit is issued for the design with conditions.
Before construction can begin PennDOT must be notified so that they can provide an inspector for the project. Once the work is completed to PennDOT’s satisfaction and any maintenance period is finished the permit will be closed out and escrow monies released.
What is a Traffic Impact Study?
A traffic or transportation impact study (TIS) is a document used to determine how many vehicles a development (or other change) will cause to be added to the road network, and if the system can handle the additional vehicles. If the system cannot handle the additional traffic, improvements such as additional lanes, signal timing changes, or new traffic signals are typically proposed. The goal of the TIS is to identify the effect of the proposed development and to ensure that any change made will result in a safe and efficient road network.
How is a Traffic Impact Study performed?
Any TIS starts with traffic data collection in the form of intersection turning movement counts, roadway machine tube counts, and an inventory of existing conditions at roads and intersections. The collected data is projected into the future with growth rates. Then the amount of traffic expected to be added to the roadway system is calculated by a variety of means, but most often using published rates for the proposed type of developments. The new traffic is distributed through the roadway system.
An operational analysis can then be performed using a software package selected to best model the roadway system. These analyses look at how the delays and vehicle queues change, and, if needed, examine the degree to which improvements take care of the impacts of the development. Safety aspects including analysis of crash data and sight distance at intersections are also investigated. Warrant analyses are performed to determine if a traffic signal can be installed, or to determine if turn lanes are required.
What does it take to get a traffic signal installed?
In order to install a traffic signal the intersection must satisfy at least one warrant in the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) and get approval from PennDOT and the municipality. The warrants are minimum standards based largely on the number of vehicles on the major and side streets, and minimum numbers must be observed, usually for several hours. There are also special warrants for pedestrians, schools, railroad crossings near intersections, and for systems of signals. While crashes at an intersection cannot themselves warrant a signal, a sufficient number of crashes within six months that could be corrected by a signal can reduce the required volume of vehicles passing through the intersection to a lower threshold.
In Pennsylvania, a traffic signal is owned, maintained and operated by the municipality it is located in. The municipality must pass a resolution authorizing the signal to be installed and operated. While the signal is owned by the municipality, in most cases PennDOT is the agency that determines if the signal is warranted and if the design of the signal is adequate. PennDOT maintains records of the signal permit plans, which are created by an engineer to document the physical location of the signal, and how it will rotate through the different color lights and through each street approaching the intersection.