State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

For the state's worst bridges, a chance for repair chugs along

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Sep 29, 2013 8:59 PM
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A plan to bring public and private dollars together to fix some of the state's structurally deficient bridges is moving forward.

A state panel approved on Friday afternoon an initiative to begin looking for private companies to help rebuild state, county, and local bridges under contracts that would ensure lower costs and a faster turnaround.

The plan won't affect bridges that just received new or additional weight restrictions because they aren't so far gone as to need full replacement.

PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch said the public-private partnership (or, in wonky circles, P-3) is geared toward bridges that need to be totally rebuilt.

"We've learned from other states, if you do just a rehabilitation, there's other elements that already exist, and then if a problem occurs, what's the reason for the problem?" Schoch said. "You get into a very difficult engineering forensics, as to who's responsible, and we want to avoid that and say that we want only bridges that are built from the ground up."

Schoch said his agency as identified as many as 1,000 state bridges that would be eligible for the project - "ones that are structurally deficient, total replacements, meaning not rehabilitation," Schoch said. The figure would grow to include state or local government-owned bridges that need to be rebuilt.

The panel's approval of the P-3 project for the first time brings legislation passed last session to bear on the state's problem of structurally deficient bridges. Some House Republicans who have been so far unwilling to commit to a transportation funding plan that would raise fees and taxes have said the partnerships haven't been brought into the conversation about generating money for infrastructure. But Schoch said the project has to start with state money, and can be expanded as revenue allows.

Without any additional funding from the Legislature, the project could result in around 200 state bridge replacements. "If we get a finance package, we might be up to a thousand," Schoch said. "If we don't get additional revenue, it might be up to 200 or 300. I don't know the exact answer to that yet, but it will totally be scalable."

Meanwhile, aides huddled in House Majority Leader Mike Turzai's office Friday afternoon discussing a transportation funding proposal and myriad amendments expected from members.

Turzai has said he would soon call for a vote on the $2.5 billion plan that passed in the Senate. Schoch said Gov. Corbett has some concerns about the bill, but would sign it if it came to his desk - and might, in fact, sign anything at this point.

"It's something that if it doesn't get done, it really is going to be difficult for everyone to come out of this and suggest that anyone looks good in this," Schoch said.

A transportation funding proposal stalled in the House in June. Republicans balked at tax and fee increases and Democrats insisted on more money for mass transit.


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