Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf's administration has picked a consortium of building companies to manage construction on as many as nine major interstate bridges in the state. The governor also is prepared to use tolls on some of the bridges to pay for upgrades on the aging spans.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) followed Wolf's lead recently when it selected Bridging Pennsylvania Partners (BPP) as the team to administer the Major Bridge Public-Private Partnership (P3) initiative to repair or replace the targeted bridges.
BPP includes three international firms: U.S. subsidiaries of Israel-based Shikun & Binui, a development subsidiary of Macquarie Group, from Australia, and the Spanish construction firm FCC Construcción.
Additionally, it encompasses six other companies based in Pa. that specialize in design or heavy construction, according to the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown.
The Pennsylvania contractors that make up BPP are:
• STV Incorporated (Douglassville).
• Shikun & Binui – America Inc. (Pittsburgh).
• SAI Consulting Engineers Inc. (Lemoyne).
• Wagman Heavy Civil Inc. (York)
• Joseph B. Fay Company (Pittsburgh).
• H&K Group Inc. (Skippack).
An Associated Press report noted that PennDOT chose the consortium based on an analysis of experience and qualifications on similarly sized projects, investment and financial experience, understanding of the project, and approach to satisfy its requirements.
PennDOT and BPP will now enter into a "pre-development agreement" to finalize the design and packaging of the bridges to be built, financed and maintained, the agency said. It added that all construction work is mandated to be performed by contractors prequalified for work in Pa., and at least 65 percent of the construction work will be subcontracted.
Key Bridges Set to Be Fixed Under P3 Initiative
PennDOT said March 9 that it had not yet decided which of the nine bridges it plans to toll, the Tribune-Democrat reported.
The candidate bridges are I-78's Lenhartsville Bridge in Berks County; I-79's bridges over PA Route 50 in Allegheny County; four of I-80's crossing structures over Canoe Creek in Clarion County, Nescopeck Creek in Luzerne County, North Fork in Jefferson County and the Lehigh River, near Wilkes-Barre; I-81 over the Susquehanna River in northern Pennsylvania; I-83's South Bridge across the Susquehanna, a mile from the state capitol in Harrisburg; and Girard Point Bridge on I-95 in Philadelphia.
Each were selected because they are relatively large, costly projects that require more immediate improvements, PennDOT told the AP. The agency tried to give geographical balance to the bridges it selected to distribute the impact.
Currently, PennDOT is conducting public hearings and environmental reviews on the structures.
The first set of bridges is scheduled to be under contract by December 2022, according to the agency. After the design process, construction is expected to begin between fall 2023 and spring 2024.
Tolls Seen as Best Option
The Wolf administration's push for tolling comes as many states have increasingly looked to user fees to make up for declining gas tax revenue.
Under the governor's proposal, gantries installed at the bridges would read E-ZPass transponders or license plates to collect fees and are expected to be managed by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission under an interagency agreement with PennDOT.
According to the Johnstown news source, however, the plan has spurred opposition from some communities and Republican lawmakers, who say it will be costly to locals and businesses and create traffic congestion.
GOP members of Pennsylvania's house and senate have countered that the Wolf administration could instead use federal infrastructure aid or borrow the money from the federal government to improve each of the bridges. However, PennDOT has said neither helps fix a long-term gap of billions of dollars in highway construction and maintenance funding.
Wolf's strategy also comes amid steeply rising gas prices.
Pa.'s gasoline taxes are among the nation's highest, but PennDOT has said its current highway and bridge budget for construction and maintenance is approximately $6.9 billion per year, less than half of the $15 billion that is needed to keep the state's highways and bridges in good condition and ease major traffic bottlenecks.
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