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Rebuilding bridges to the region’s future

Genesee Transportation Council is focused on transportation, Executive Director Richard Perrin says, but its reach extends well beyond roadway infrastructure.
“It’s not transportation for transportation’s sake,” Perrin says. “It’s how do we maximize transportation’s contribution to the economic and social vitality of the region. Essentially, how do we use transportation to improve economic development and quality of life?”
The 30-year-old Brighton resident on Friday marks his one-year anniversary as executive director. He was appointed by GTC board members on May 13, 2004. He served as acting executive director for three months after being named to replace Steve Gleason, who left the council to become chief financial officer for Monroe County.
GTC operates under guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which requires metropolitan areas with more than 50,000 people to have a metropolitan planning organization to qualify for federal highway and transit funds.
The council is required to produce a long-range transportation plan of at least 20 years, an annual unified planning work program that incorporates long-term strategies in specific concepts and a five-year transportation improvement program that includes project schedules and funding sources.
The council oversees transportation funding for Monroe, Genesee, Livingston, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates counties. It encompasses a region of 1.2 million people, 27,000 businesses, 500,000 employees and 4,700 square miles, Perrin says.
GTC employs nine at its offices at 50 W. Main St.
Board members this month approved the 2005-2010 transportation improvement program, with $515 million in funding for surface transportation improvements, effective June 15. The funding is slightly more than the $503.4 million allocated in the 2003-2008 plan.
The board’s 24 voting members includes the heads of legislatures and boards of supervisors in the nine counties; nine additional representatives from Monroe County and the city of Rochester; the heads of Empire State Development Corp., state Department of Transportation, state Department of Environmental Conservation and the state Thruway Authority; and the board chairmen of the Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council and the Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority.
“Rich is a sharp individual and does a terrific job for the Genesee Transportation Council,” says Marvin Decker, chairman of the Wayne County board of supervisors and chairman of the council board. “When work needs to be done, it gets done and done on time. Rich is always courteous, highly responsible and very effective.”
The board also includes non-voting representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration.
“That $515 million over the next five years is not a wish list,” Perrin says. “That’s money we’re going to get.”
Some $360 million in federal funds-or 80 percent of project costs-will go toward replacing or rehabilitating bridges in the nine-county metropolitan area. The remaining 20 percent will come from a combination of state and local funds.
“We were able to fund every single bridge that was eligible for the federal formula funds,” Perrin says. “Bridges are the key to safety on any road network. You hit a pothole, maybe you lose a rim or blow a tire. Something happens with a bridge, you’re talking about lives.”
Some $70 million in federal funds will target Monroe County’s southern corridor, including I-390, Route 15, Route 15A and Jefferson Road.
“That’s our most congested area,” Perrin says. “We don’t have congestion like other areas do, but at peak times we have some.”
Most of this area’s traffic backups, he says, result from accidents or other incidents. New roads are not necessary to ease or eliminate those problems, he says.
“We’re not attempting to build our way out of mild congestion. We’re not about building new roads. Everything you build you have to maintain,” Perrin says.
That means more money would be needed. The Rochester metropolitan area, he says, is underfunded by at least 25 percent for maintenance on existing infrastructure.
The money problem is not unique to Rochester, he says. Faster-growing areas in the Southeast and Southwest tend to receive larger portions of the federal funding pie.
“We’re looking at how we can use our existing system better through operational improvements,” he says. “That’s things like signal synchronization, messaging signs, closed-circuit television and highway advisory radio.”
The five-year plan includes nearly $3 million to improve the region’s bicycle and pedestrian trails.
“We’re working on making those a viable transportation alternative,” he says.
“We have to take care of the transportation system, but there’s also a quality-of-life benefit to having a trail system and we have one of the best. We have some natural features that fit perfectly with trails, namely the Genesee River (and its Genesee Riverway Trail) and the Erie Canal (Canalway Trail).”
Highlights of the newly approved TIP include:
— $29.3 million for the reconstruction of I-390 from west of the Genesee River to Brighton-Henrietta Town Line Road,
— $19.8 million for reconstruction of Route 252 in Henrietta,
— $7.7 million for the reconstruction of Mt. Hope Avenue and East Henrietta Road, and
— $4.6 million for the reconfiguration and reconstruction of the I-590 interchange at Winton Road.
“The Mt. Hope project is the gateway to the city, so let’s make it look like it’s a gateway to the great city that Rochester is,” Perrin says.
Plans call for the addition of a median and other design elements.
“It’s not just laying asphalt,” Perrin says. “It’s medians, landscaping and period lighting. It’s how we make this transportation facility match the community that it’s leading into and out of.”
The five-year plan calls for $40 million to be spent on 100 new buses for the RGRTA, and $1.5 million for six new buses to transport the physically and mentally challenged.
The GTC has no plans to explore expansion of mass transit such as light rail or a subway system, Perrin says, “because the issues haven’t changed.”
A subway or trolley system is considered to be a startup project, which, federal guidelines stipulate, requires 50 percent of the funding to come from local sources, Perrin says.

Western New York native

Perrin grew up in the Buffalo suburb of West Seneca. He earned his undergraduate degree from St. John Fisher College and his master’s degree in urban planning from SUNY at Buffalo.
After working for several months at SUNY Buffalo’s research arm, the Institute for Local Governance and Regional Growth, he took a job with the Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council studying land-use issues and then economic development.
“I had offers, but a lot of them were from all over the country, and I wanted to stay in Western New York,” Perrin says. “Having come to St. John Fisher College, I really got an appreciation for this area, and I loved it. This is really my home.”
The regional planning council focuses on water resources planning, regional economic development, strategic planning, program and grant development, and surveys.
“It opened my eyes to all the things that go into planning, particularly on a regional level,” Perrin says. “I recognized that things like watersheds cross municipal and county boundaries.
“Once I got into the economic development, I really liked that. I definitely didn’t see myself going into a transportation agency coming out of graduate school. I really thought economic development was going to be it.”
After three and a half years at the planning council, he joined GTC in January
2002 as program manager for economic development.
“I found that I could pick up the technical transportation stuff relatively quickly,” he says. “I think anybody can. It’s a matter of coming in with the right perspective. There’s an issue. How do I make it better? You follow a good process, you’re going to have good results.”
His background with the regional planning council has served Perrin well, associates say.
“He’s had the advantage of previously working with planning directors and elected officials,” says Larry Stid, director of planning for the city of Rochester. “He also has a very good understanding of transportation and issues related to transportation.”
GTC seeks to define a problem, check existing conditions and projected future conditions, look at what the needs are, develop alternatives and select the preferred alternative, Perrin says.
“Through all of that, you have to involve the public and the decision makers,” he says. “We don’t work in a vacuum.”
GTC has established six transportation priorities for the region, Perrin says:
— create jobs and economic development,
— enhance community character,
— improve mobility for the physically challenged,
— increase access to medical services for an aging population,
— integrate air quality considerations and
— find ways to balance regional initiatives with local priorities.
“Rich has built on a solid foundation at GTC and made it a premier planning organization for our region,” says Mark Aesch, executive director of RGRTA.
“He is passionate about his work, and it shows in the product that flows from the GTC offices. He has done an outstanding job coordinating some extremely complicated transportation issues, encouraging public input and developing plans that have the opportunity to be implemented rather than sit on a shelf gathering dust.”

Renaissance Square

Perrin has worked closely with Aesch and other representatives of the Main and Clinton Development Corp. as the proposed Renaissance Square project has unfolded.
GTC is holding in its five-year plan $60.5 million of the $110 million in announced funding for the $230 million project, which would include an underground bus terminal, a performing-arts center and a downtown campus for Monroe Community College.
“Almost half of that ($60.5 million) is discretionary funds,” Perrin says. “Those weren’t funds that could go to any other projects. Those were funds that were dedicated to Renaissance Square.
“The people who say we are mortgaging the future of our transportation on Renaissance Square are way off base. We’re really leveraging transportation funds for downtown development. I look at Renaissance Square as less of a transportation project and more of a Main Street revitalization project.
“I look at Main Street revitalization as being about one thing: people. How do you get people on Main Street? That’s what this project is going to do.”
In addition to the $60 million included in the TIP, another $15 million is on the way, Perrin says, courtesy of Rep. Thomas Reynolds, R-Clarence, and U.S. Rep. James Walsh, R-Syracuse.
“From our perspective, it’s the perfect example of how transportation supports other activities,” Perrin says. “You have this facility that’s going to combine a transit center, a community college and a performing-arts center. When you think of three perfect uses for a central business district, that’s it.”
Renaissance Square has the blessing of board members from all nine counties, plus the state Department of Transportation, which helps decide funding allocations, Perrin says.
“They’re all saying yes, it’s going to be a benefit for us,” he says.

The network

As part of its Unified Plan Work Program, GTC is studying the movement of goods in the region and how the transportation network can be improved to help create jobs and businesses.
Truck traffic is the fastest-growing component of travel, both nationally and here, and warehousing has declined, Perrin says.
“This region is the most heavily dependent on manufacturing of any in New York State,” he says. “Twenty percent of the jobs in this region are in manufacturing, and that doesn’t even include any of the complementary support services. And that’s not just traditional manufacturing. It’s also high-tech manufacturing, such as precision instruments.”
In rural counties, trucking is crucial to agriculture and related agribusiness, he adds.
“We also want to look at rail lines. In addition to CSX and Norfolk Southern, we have close to a dozen short lines in this region that primarily serve various businesses. There’s capacity there.
“If this region gets the growth that some people want it to have, our transportation system is going to see more volume. If that happens, we have to be ready to take care of it.”
Those challenges and the diversity of the nine counties make Perrin’s job both enjoyable and challenging.
“We’ve got projects going on in the city and Monroe County,” he says. “We’re also funding a corridor study in Yates County. Prior to the first meeting for that, I had a meeting in the morning in downtown Rochester. On my way down to the meeting in Penn Yan, I was passing horse-drawn buggies. That’s what makes it interesting.”
Perrin’s hobbies include cooking, reading, bowling and softball.
Cooking is at the top of the list, he says.
“I try a lot of different things,” he says, with his girlfriend the usual taste tester.
Bowling is his first choice to escape the rigors of his job at the transportation council.
“I took it up three years ago as a matter of stress relief,” he says. “If you want to relieve stress, there’s no better way than to throw something heavy down a lane.”
(rbj@rbj.net / 585-546-8303)

05/13/05 (C) Rochester Business Journal

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