PennDOT holds outreach; talks of funding

March 22, 2013
Joseph Szczur, executive of District 12 of the state Department of Transportation, speaks Friday at PennDOT’s annual outreach program in Waynesburg.

WAYNESBURG – The next two months will be “critical” in the effort to secure increased funding for road and bridge improvement projects throughout the state, Joseph Szczur, executive of District 12 of the state Department of Transportation, said Friday.

Speaking at the district’s annual outreach program in Waynesburg, Szczur said the department during the past few years has had to do more and more with less and less. “And we’ve been doing that,” he said, “But now it’s a matter of doing less and less. Revenue is declining and it’s in a critical stage.”

Gov. Tom Corbett has proposed a plan to address transportation funding that would remove the cap on the oil company franchise tax that applies to gasoline sold at the wholesale level. The cap has been at $1.25 a gallon since the 1990s. Corbett’s proposal would phase out the cap and remove it completely within five years. The plan also would reduce the retail tax on gasoline in five years from 12 cents to 10 cents a gallon.

“Time is of the essence, and the time is now in regard to transportation funding,” Szczur said. The next two months are critical, he said, because action on the governor’s proposal would have to be addressed within that time in order for funding to be in place for the next fiscal year.

Corbett’s plan is expected to increase the department’s revenue by $510 million the first year, an amount that would grow to $1.8 billion the fifth year, Szczur said. He estimated the increase in money for the district, which includes Greene, Washington, Fayette and Westmoreland counties, at the end of five years at $100 million a year.

An increase in transportation funding is particularly important because of the condition of state bridges. Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of bridges designated as structurally deficient, Szczur said. Southwestern Pennsylvania historically has had the most bridges with that designation.

In Greene County, the state maintains 396 bridges. Of that, 86 are listed as being structurally deficient, said Rachel Duda, assistant district executive for design. The designation does not mean the bridge is unsafe, but it does mean that one of its major components is in need of repair.

In recent years, the district has focused its efforts on bridges, budgeting 67 percent of its construction money on bridge improvements, she said. Progress has been made on bridges but at the same time the conditions of roads has deteriorated, she said. The district currently is budgeting equal amounts of money on bridges and roads.

Duda also spoke of the effect funding levels have had on the value of projects in the district’s Transportation Improvement Plan. The value of projects in the district’s TIP in 2009 was $680 million. This year, it’s $385 million. “Four years ago, we had almost double the money we have today,” she said.

PennDOT officials spoke of some of the projects that will be started in Greene County this year.

The most significant is the Route 19/21 road improvement project in Morrisville. The project, which has been planned for numerous years, will involve widening the road from Arch Street to Sugar Run Road to four lanes and includes replacing the railroad overpass and the bridge over Ten Mile Creek, which are two lanes each, with new four-lane structures.

Bids for the project will be opened in June though issues the department has faced in obtaining rights of way may push that back, Duda said.

Other district projects will include the replacement of a bridge on Route 616 over Brown’s Run in Morgan Township and development of a 4,200-foot walking and bicycling path from the Margaret Bell Miller Middle School to Second Avenue in Waynesburg.

Construction of the Route 21 Masontown Bridge also is continuing. Darian Glitz, district assistant construction engineer, said the steel has been erected on the bridge and the contractor will begin building the deck. The $49.6 million project is expected to be completed in October 2014.

Glitz also said the district would be completing five slide correction projects and three small bridge replacement projects this year.

Jerry Simkovic, Greene County maintenance manager, also gave a rundown of maintenance projects his crews will complete during the year, which includes crack sealing, surface treatments, shoulder grading, shoulder cutting and bridge cleaning.

His crews also handle winter storms, of which there have been 44 “events” so far this year. To be an event, department trucks must use at least 28 tons of salt, pure or mixed, on county roads in a 24 hour period, he said.

The county maintenance crews also complete slide repairs. Simkovic said his crews will probably repair 10 to 15 slides this year, though about 32 slides currently need attention. His crews also will be replacing two bridges, one on Water Dam Road, the other on Route 221, and rehabilitating a third, on Crucible Road.

Bob Niedbala worked as a general assignment reporter for the newspaper for 27 years in the Greene County bureau. He received a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Pittsburgh.

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