Likely $2.3B influx puts PennDOT big-ticket road projects in play
By Tom Fontaine
Published: Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, 11:12 p.m.
A $22 million bridge project in Beaver County that crews will finish in spring remains an anomaly.
When construction began three years ago on the Veterans Memorial Bridge across the Beaver River, PennDOT officials said it was Pennsylvania's only major project to build a bridge where one hadn't existed. It will connect Route 51 in Bridgewater and Routes 65/18 in Rochester Township.
Road- and bridge-building projects, which PennDOT calls “capacity-adding projects,” remain rare in Pennsylvania. But the agency's top official said this week that a recently adopted plan to generate $2.3 billion a year for transportation needs could change that.
“We have such a huge backlog of maintenance and construction needs that we're not going to build new bridges at the expense of weight-restricting or closing existing ones,” said PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch.
Schoch said he expects a gradual uptick in projects across the state because of the anticipated money. How much and how quickly is unknown, he said.
“It will grow, but it's going to be gradual,” Schoch said of the construction work.
The Legislature in November passed the transportation bill pushed by Gov. Tom Corbett. It eventually will raise prices at gasoline pumps, critics said, because it lifts the cap on the wholesale gasoline tax. More revenue will come through higher fees for motorists.
In 2001, PennDOT spent about 25 percent of its construction dollars on capacity-adding projects.
Budget constraints and soaring repair needs, however, then prompted PennDOT to shift focus to maintenance of roads and bridges. In 2004, the agency halted more than $5 billion in planned capacity-adding projects.
For the past five years, PennDOT has spent less than 5 percent of its construction dollars on such work, including just 3 percent of more than $2 billion in construction funding this year, state records show.
Martin Pietrucha, director of the Pennsylvania Transportation Institute at Penn State, questions whether PennDOT should return to high percentages of capacity-adding work. He pointed to studies showing that people are driving less and car ownership is down among young people who are increasingly turning to other modes such as transit.
“I don't know if you need to rush headlong back into capacity-adding projects,” Pietrucha said.
Agency officials are looking at other, more cost-effective ways to ease congestion and make roads safer, such as coordinating the timing of traffic signals or adding turning lanes to keep cars moving on busy corridors.
Dan Cessna, chief executive for PennDOT's District 11, which includes Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties, said the region's largest capacity-adding project will add an interchange along Route 28 at 31st Street at a cost of $36.4 million.
While PennDOT pulled back, however, the Turnpike Commission pushed ahead with projects, pumping about $2 billion into construction projects. Most of the work addressed widening the toll highway. To date, crews have rebuilt more than 100 miles.
The Turnpike's debt jumped from $2.6 billion in 2007 to more than $8 billion, leading to annual toll increases.
Schoch, a member of the turnpike commission, said it's unlikely that PennDOT will return to 2001 levels of funding for capacity-adding projects. But he said several major projects could move forward because of the adopted funding plan — including hundreds of millions of dollars of improvements planned for corridors such as U.S. Route 322, which crosses the state from the Ohio border at Crawford County to Chester in Delaware County, and Interstate 83, which runs from Harrisburg to Baltimore.
A couple of road projects are proposed in Pittsburgh as part of development projects.
About 1½ miles of roads will be built to accommodate Almono LP's plan to redevelop the 178-acre former LTV Steel Co. site along the Monongahela River in Hazelwood. That and other infrastructure work would be paid for with the help of an $80 million tax-increment financing plan, or TIF.
The Buncher Co. would build nearly a mile of roadway as part of its proposed project to redevelop land along the Allegheny River in the Strip District, where it plans to build a public plaza and about $450 million in retail, office and residential development.
Work has begun on a 3,700-foot road through Buncher's proposed development area between 11th and 21st streets. Buncher would not say how much it will cost but said it is privately funded. Ultimately, the road would be turned over to the city and become a public street, along with extensions of 13th, 15th and 17th streets.
Tom Fontaine is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- South Fayette parents express dissatisfaction with handling of bullying
- South Fayette mother wants case against bullied son to be dropped
- Obama hopes to replicate CCAC job training efforts across United States
- Legal experts question prosecuting South Fayette boy for recording bullies
- District attorney’s office takes paperwork from Wilkinsburg Middle School
- Would-be drillers quizzed by Allegheny County Council committee
- Moon school hiring under fire
- Federal League baseball pitcher Knetzer made history on the mound
- California company Varian to pay Pitt $35M to settle patent infringement lawsuit
- Leader guided changes at Robert Morris
- For undercover officer who tried to nab Lawrence County flasher, work can be ‘drag’