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State transportation secretary applauds Act 89's effects on Mon Yough projects

Saturday, May 3, 2014, 1:46 a.m.
 

Pennsylvania's transportation secretary said his agency can tackle a huge backlog of bridge and other needs because of Act 89 of 2013.

Barry J. Schoch told Mon Yough Area Chamber of Commerce members on Friday that Act 89 is providing $150 million more in 2014 to PennDOT Districts 11 and 12, to be applied for 250 additional miles of pavement.

“You can look forward to a lot of projects we would not see (otherwise), he told the chamber's legislative luncheon at Westwood Golf Club in West Mifflin.

District 11 includes Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties while District 12 includes Westmoreland, Washington, Fayette and Greene.

Schoch said Act 89 hikes highway funds statewide from $1.5 billion to $2.3 billion this year, “ramping up to $2.6 billion by” 2017-18.

Increased roadwork means increased concern for the crews employed out there, as Schoch told the audience of more than 100.

“We need you to obey the speed limit (and) put down the phone,” Schoch urged. “Use care and be careful out there.”

Not on this year's list is what's officially the Regis R. Malady Bridge over the Monongahela River between Elizabeth and West Elizabeth.

“The Elizabeth Bridge is a pretty complex bridge to design,” Schoch said of a Route 51 span posted last year with a 32-ton limit for single vehicles and 40 for combinations.

No date was set for rehabilitation of the span. The posting forced a detour via West Elizabeth, Jefferson Hills, Clairton, Glassport, Lincoln, Elizabeth Township and Elizabeth.

Originally state officials sought $3.5 billion in additional funding for transportation.

The remaining money may come by other means, including a vehicle registration surcharge of $5 by counties.

That option would be on top of increased fees for all motorists, including hikes in basic passenger car registration from $36 to $37 in 2015-16, $38 in 2017-18 and then based on the cost of living in 2019-20.

“The state can't afford to do all of these projects without public-private partnerships” or P3s, Schoch said.

Another provision of Act 89 could facilitate a P3 to finish the Mon/Fayette Expressway or Turnpike 43 between Route 51 in the Large section of Jefferson Hills and the Penn-Lincoln Parkway East in Wilkins Township and Monroeville.

The transportation secretary compared the Turnpike 43 situation to that years ago when the Pennsylvania Turnpike built its Northeast Extension.

“With Act 89 we have hopes and we have means,” Schoch said. “What we need is a beltway around the city (of Pittsburgh),” a comment that drew applause.

“This is a pivotal day (for Turnpike 43),” said Mon Valley Progress Council executive director Joe Kirk, who cited community leaders in the audience saying Mon/Fayette's extension is crucial for the future of their businesses.

“I think we have a tremendous opportunity,” former Pennsylvania Turnpike Commissioner Jim Dodaro of White Oak told the audience, which included current commissioner Sean Logan of Plum and panel chairman William Lieberman of Pittsburgh. “To have it end at Route 51 in Large is a travesty.”

Dodaro pressed a proposal to eliminate an extension of the expressway through Braddock to Pittsburgh. Instead, he wants an extension of the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway from Swissvale to an interchange in East Pittsburgh.

“In effect, you've made it a multi-modal highway,” Dodaro said, adding that it would cut costs and take away much of the “political negativity.”

“It has a lot of merit,” Schoch said.

Kirk seeks support for the Large-to-Monroeville link from every municipality along that corridor. So far he's won resolutions from Penn Hills, Monroeville, North Versailles Township, East Pittsburgh, McKeesport, Dravosburg and Duquesne.

Schoch's work under Republican Gov. Tom Corbett won bipartisan praise, with Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa Jr., D-Forest Hills, urging his retention no matter who is elected governor this fall.

“He has been an outstanding secretary,” Costa said.

Efforts by Costa and other area lawmakers merited for them a visionary leadership award given by Mon Yough president Maury Burgwin.

Plaques were given to Costa, Sens. James Brewster, D-McKeesport, and Timothy Solobay, D-Canonsburg, Reps. Joseph Markosek, D-Monroeville, and Bill Kortz, D-Dravosburg, and McKeesport city administrator Matt Gergely for his brother, Rep. Marc Gergely, D-White Oak.

“He was very active in transportation issues,” Markosek recalled about Schoch's past activity as a vice president of the Harrisburg engineering firm of McCormick-Taylor.

Schoch took part in a series of hearings conducted by Markosek, then House Transportation Committee majority chairman, with minority chairman Rep. Rick Geist, R-Blair County, during a special 2010 session on transportation called by then-Gov. Ed Rendell.

Schoch received an unofficial honor, a box of Dorothy's Candies presented by the White Oak chocolatier's owner, Marti Gastel.

Other topics tackled at Westwood included the Port Authority. Schoch noted that for the first time in 10 years the Allegheny County bus and rapid transit agency does not face financial problems.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

 

 
 


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