Transportation bill comes with both costs and benefits
Pennsylvania, infamously, is home to more structurally deficient bridges than any other state - about 4,200. That's 18 percent of the state's total number of bridges, compared with a national average of 7 percent.
Because of the state's heavy reliance on transportation industries to help drive the economy, the situation is not about public safety alone. But, at long last, it appears that the state government is on track to relinquish its position.
One of the accomplishments of the Legislature last year was a transportation bill that increased the budget for bridge and highway spending by 40 percent, an additional $2.3 billion.
There is no dancing in the street over the package because it likely will increase fuel taxes. It eliminated a cap on a wholesale oil tax that could increase retail pump prices by up to 28.5 cents a gallon, while repealing a 12-cent-per-gallon fuel tax, leaving a net increase of 16.5 cents.
But there is no doubt that the work must be done for the sake of safety and the economy. And it will have the added benefit of increasing construction industry and supply-chain employment by thousands.
The bill also makes possible an expansion of a sound program to expedite bridge work, the Rapid Bridge Replacement Project. PennDOT will be able to add about 200 bridges to the rapid repair list because of the state bill.
Under the program, rather than bidding out design and construction work one bridge at a time, bridges of similar design are included in a single package to be handled by a single company or multi-company partnership. The scope of the contract will include not only design and construction but long-term maintenance of the completed structure.
Which bridges actually will be replaced will be determined by PennDOT after it selects the contractor by this spring.
This project is a form of public/private partnership that makes sense. It will expedite construction while stretching design and engineering dollars to help produce the most improvement.