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PennDOT Eyes Tolls to Fund Work on Nine Interstate Bridges

Tue February 23, 2021 - Northeast Edition

Philadelphia's mile-long Girard Point Bridge is one nine bridges on six interstates that has been identified by PennDot as needing upgrades.
Philadelphia's mile-long Girard Point Bridge is one nine bridges on six interstates that has been identified by PennDot as needing upgrades.

Facing growing demands on its highways, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) on Feb. 18 named nine bridges on six interstates, including I-95's mile-long Girard Point Bridge in Philadelphia, that need upgrades. The state agency will consider tolling to help generate the cash to fund the work.

Improvements on the nine bridges would be costly, easily needing billions of dollars for projects that could take years to complete, according to PennDOT.

As part of its study to explore sustainable transportation funding methods and completing critical projects, the bridges are being considered for PennDOT's Pathways Major Bridge Public-Private Partnership (P3) Initiative.

"Our reliance on funding models from the last century leaves us especially vulnerable to fund losses stemming from volatile economic conditions and the increasing transition to alternative-fuel or electric vehicles," said PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian.

"This initiative will help us make much-needed improvements without compromising the routine projects our communities and industry partners rely on."

To support PennDOT Pathways, an alternative funding Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) study is under way to identify near- and long-term funding solutions for the overall transportation system and establish a methodology for their evaluation.

One of the early findings of the PEL study is that tolling of major bridges in need of replacement or rehabilitation appears to be a viable near-term solution. To advance this funding alternative, the transportation department is pursuing the first initiative of the PennDOT Pathways Program: The Major Bridge P3 Initiative.

The Pennsylvania P3 Board approved the Major Bridge P3 Initiative last November, which allows PennDOT to use the P3 delivery model for major bridges in need of rehabilitation or replacement, and to consider alternative funding methods for these locations. This initiative can provide a dedicated source of revenue for these infrastructure improvements and could create significant savings over the life of the program while ensuring the vitality of the state's transportation system and economy.

The bridges being considered for tolling through the initiative are structures of substantial size that warrant timely attention and would need significant funds to fix or replace. Additionally, these bridges were selected based on the feasibility of construction beginning in two to four years to maximize near-term benefits, and with the intention that their locations are geographically balanced to avoid impact to just one region.

Projects being considered, and for which a public involvement process begins this spring, include:

  • The Interstate 78 Lenhartsville Bridge Replacement Project in Berks County
  • Alleghany County's I-79 Widening, Bridges and Bridgeville Interchange Reconfiguration
  • The I-80 Canoe Creek bridges in Clarion County
  • Luzerne County's I-80/Nescopeck Creek bridges
  • The I-80/North Fork Bridges Project in Jefferson County
  • · The I-80 Over Lehigh River Bridge Project, in Luzerne and Carbon counties
  • The I-81 Susquehanna Project in Susquehanna County
  • Dauphin County's I-83 South Bridge Project
  • The I-95 Girard Point Bridge Improvement Project in Philadelphia County.

Each bridge's project scope, surrounding roadway network and traffic flow is being evaluated for inclusion in one or more project bundles to be advertised this spring.

Bridge tolling provides funds to reconstruct or replace these costly bridges without depleting PennDOT's ability to deliver its current program of projects, thus allowing existing funding to continue to be used for needed roadway and bridge safety and operational improvements. Tolling would be all electronic and collected by using E-ZPass or license plate billing. The monies received from the toll would go back to the bridge where the toll is collected to pay for the construction, maintenance and operation of that structure.

As Pennsylvania's mobility needs have grown, the amount of funding required to support the Keystone State's highway and bridge network has continued to increase. PennDOT's current highway and bridge budget for construction and maintenance is approximately $6.9 billion per year — less than half of the $15 billion needed to keep Pennsylvania's highways and bridges in a state of good repair and address major bottlenecks on the roadway network.

These are the latest in the agency's efforts to support and grow the state's transportation network in the face of growing needs and shrinking resources. Much of PennDOT's current highway and bridge funding comes from gas taxes, which are declining due to alternative fuels and fuel efficiency.

PennDOT Pathways aims to identify reliable, future-focused funding solutions that will meet the overall transportation system's growing needs while serving communities.

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