Solobay weighs in on future transportation needs

December 12, 2012

Senate Democrats plan a news conference next week to discuss their transportation priorities, but state Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, who will be unable to be in Harrisburg because of commitments closer to home, gave a preview of what he’d like to see happen.

Solobay, who represents a large chunk of Washington County and all of Greene County, is a member of the Senate Transportation Committee.

He said there is a $3 billion to $4 billion funding gap to replace and repair structurally deficient bridges across the commonwealth. Washington County has 183 bridges in this category, and Greene County has 90. The average age of the bridges that need to be replaced is 74 years old.

“We may be floating a bond issue financed through the state,” Solobay said, rather than borrowing that would have to be approved by voters statewide in a referendum.

Seven years ago this month, Solobay and his predecessor, Barry Stout, donned hard hats to take a look at the area’s most dramatic evidence of what can happen to a structurally deficient bridge: the collapse of the Lakeview Drive box-beam bridge on Interstate 70 in South Strabane Township. An Ohio woman and two children were injured when their vehicle crashed into the bridge wreckage.

A probe of the cause concluded the steel reinforcement rods inside the concrete of the bridge had corroded due to water seepage, damage that could not be seen during routine bridge inspections, PennDOT concluded.

But Solobay said rumors persist that witnesses at the time reported seeing sparks as a car carrier scraped the underside of the Lakeview Drive bridge, which had fresh gouge marks when it fell. Police were not able to track down an over-height truck.

Suspicions about box-beam bridge construction led to the demolition of two other bridges across Interstate 70, one on North Main Street, also in South Strabane, which has been replaced, and another near the Kammerer Exit, which hasn’t.

But during the past seven years, almost $19 million has been spent on bridge preservation in Washington and Greene counties to prevent them from becoming structurally deficient.

In addition to borrowing, Solobay said another way to pay for transportation projects would be to remove the cap from the wholesale price of gasoline, bringing in $1 billion in revenue.

“The cap, I want to say, is $1.25 per gallon,” Solobay said. “I don’t want to say 20 years, but its been a while since there’s been an increase.”

Washington County officials learned last week that PennDOT will rehabilitate 19 bridges here at a cost of $7.3 million in a yearlong pilot project that includes just three of the state’s 67 counties.

During a sluggish economy, a spate of bridge and road projects will create jobs, not only in construction, but in industries that supply materials and with engineering firms that design the repairs and replacements.

“I think it’s got broad, bipartisan support. Bad roads, bad bridges aren’t a Republican or a Democratic thing. They affect people from all walks of life,” Solobay said.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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