Less money available for road projects

March 7, 2013
Scott Faieta, left, assistant construction engineer for PennDOT, and Bill Kovatch, PennDOT assistant district executive, review plans at the annual outreach meeting Thursday. - Kathie Warco / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Less money is available for road and bridge projects in the state Department of Transportation’s District 12, which includes Washington County.

A transportation plan recently presented by Gov. Thomas Corbett calls for the eventual removal of the cap on the gas company franchise tax, making more money available for road construction projects.

The cap has been at $1.25 a gallon since the 1990s, Joseph Szczur, district executive, told municipal and county officials during the annual District 12 outreach program Thursday. The cap gradually would be lifted by thirds in the first, third and fifth year of the five-year plan.

“That is the basic foundation behind getting the revenue we have to invest in our infrastructure under his transportation plan,” Szczur said. “With new funding, we could turn the corner on the number of contracts we are letting. Without, the annual contract letting would drop.”

Money available for local projects would go from $70 million to $200 million over the five years of the plan.

Szczur said Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of bridges designated as structurally deficient, and the most are in District 12.

“We need new funding to decrease the number of structurally deficient bridges,” Szczur added.

In recent years, 70 percent of the construction money available went to bridges, said Rachel Duda, assistant district executive for design.

“Now we will be spending an equal amount on bridges and roads,” Duda told the group. “Being designated as structurally deficient doesn’t mean the bridge is unsafe. It just means a major component is in need of repair.”

Of the 774 bridges PennDOT maintains in Washington County, 79 are considered structurally deficient, Duda added. The district has been chosen for a pilot program that will rehabilitate 18 local bridges.

Some road projects will be resuming in the next few weeks, while some never really stopped.

Work began earlier this week to demolish and replace the bridge that takes Sheffield Street over Interstate 70 in Canton Township, said Scott Faieta, assistant construction engineer who oversees projects in the county.

On Monday, the left lane of College Street between Highland Avenue and East Maiden Street will close as work on the Route 19 project around Washington & Jefferson College continues. The next phase, which includes reconstruction along Ridge and Highland avenues, will begin this summer.

Work to improve the south junction of interstates 70 and 79 is going well, Faieta reported. The piers for the flyover ramp have been built and beams set, he said. Work also is continuing on reconstruction of the Eighty Four/Route 519 interchange on I-70.

Five bridges will be replaced this summer, including three on Route 136 and one each in Coal Center and Westland.

“Detours will be required, so all three bridges on Route 136 will not be done at the same time,” Faieta said.

Work at the Meadow Lands interchange of I-79 will be finished by summer. Faieta said all of the I-79 ramps are functional. A box culvert on Manifold Road has to be completed, as well as work on the traffic signals.

Valleybrook Road near Route 19 in Peters Township will be closed in May as work begins on that intersection. A bridge in Midway also will be rebuilt this year. Asphalt patching on I-79 south will start in the middle of April and continue through August.

A bridge on Henderson Avenue at the Washington-Canton line will not be removed until next year because of right-of-way concerns, he added.

Future projects being worked on include the proposed roundabout at Route 519 and Brownlee Road and the diverging diamond interchange proposed for I-70 at Murtland Avenue. Duda noted this interchange would be the first of its kind in the state.

Kathie O. Warco has covered the police beat and transportation for the Observer-Reporter for more than 25 years. She graduated from Duquesne University with a degree in journalism.

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