New bridges aplenty going up across Allegheny County and Pa. in 2016

Brian C. Rittmeyer
| Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

A three-year effort to replace hundreds of structurally deficient bridges across Pennsylvania will shift into high gear this year.

Fifty bridges have been replaced in 16 of the state's 67 counties under the Pennsylvania Rapid Bridge Replacement Project, which got under way in June.

More than 200 bridges are scheduled to be replaced in 58 counties in 2016.

Allegheny County will see the most work of any county this construction season, with about 30 bridges slated for replacement.

By the end of 2017, 558 structurally deficient bridges will have been replaced with new structures expected to last a century through the $899 million project.

The project, a public-private partnership said to be the first of its kind in the nation, is able to do in three years what normally would have taken PennDOT eight to 12 years to finish, according to PennDOT spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick.

It's able to get the bridges replaced faster because the ones selected are of similar size that lend themselves to mass-produced components, Kirkpatrick said.

“The advantages of the program,” he said, “are to maximize efficiencies and economies of scale to deliver more bridges, minimize impact on the traveling public, improve system connectivity and mobility for commerce, and reduce the negative impact of structurally deficient bridges statewide.”

Three basic designs are being used, each designed for efficiency and quick construction, said Dan Galvin, a spokesman for Plenary Walsh Keystone Partners, a consortium of international finance and construction companies that won the contract.

The project had planned to replace nearly 60 bridges in the first year, but poor weather and some that needed design changes lowered the count.

“Overall, getting 50 bridges completed in about six months was quite an accomplishment,” Galvin said. “We have an even bigger challenge in front of us this year.”

Fawn bridges among PennDOT's first fixes

A design change was blamed for slowing work on Bull Creek Road in Fawn, where two bridges have been replaced. The other, on Bakerstown Road, went as planned.

“One couldn't have been any better; one couldn't have been any worse,” Fawn Supervisors Chairman David Montanari said.

“The bridges definitely were in a state of disrepair. They were deemed dangerous,” Montanari said. “We're happy to have the bridges replaced.”

On Bakerstown, Galvin said, one of the old bridge abutments was far more massive than originally believed, which required changes to protect utilities.

Galvin said with such a large program, added costs from one bridge do not have a significant impact on the overall budget.

“It's something we expect as part of construction,” he said. “It's the nature of the beast. You always anticipate something will not go according to plan. You factor that into your overall cost.”

Some bridges are so small, drivers may not realize they are there, but they are important transportation links, Galvin said.

Most of the bridges being replaced date from the 1930s and '40s, with the oldest dating from 1880 in Montgomery County.

Structurally deficient, many with weight limits

They are all considered structurally deficient, many with weight limits, and don't meet current standards, Galvin said. They are not unsafe, but they need immediate attention.

“They've outlived their useful lifespan,” he said.

The replacements are expected to last for a century. In the deal, Plenary Walsh will be responsible for their maintenance for 25 years.

Kirkpatrick said PennDOT is focusing on the overall goal to get all 558 bridges done by the end of 2017.

“This is a complex program, a program that in a lot of ways is unprecedented,” he said. “We feel that the program is advancing. We have every confidence Plenary Walsh will meet that target and have these 558 bridges done by the end of 2017.”

Galvin said construction will resume as the weather warms up, with work expected to start in the western region in late March.

Before that, public meetings will be scheduled across the state so residents can find out what construction will be occurring in their community.

“Just bear with us,” Galvin said. “Please be patient.”

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4701 or

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