HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is preparing to choose a private-sector team to replace at least 558 ailing state bridges and maintain them for 25 years as part of an innovative public-private partnership, an official said Sept. 22.
The Rapid Bridge Replacement initiative bundles the replacement of bridges that are in poor condition into a single contract. The concept is designed to take advantage of design similarities and economies of scale that will reduce the taxpayers’ cost, Secretary Barry Schoch said at a news briefing.
The program is the nation’s first public-private project that involves multiple assets and assigns long-term maintenance responsibility to the private sector, PennDOT officials said.
“We at PennDOT want to be in a leadership role both here in Pennsylvania and the nation in terms of being innovative and creative,’’ Schoch said. “We’re sort of pushing the envelope with this.’’
Four private industry teams are competing for the contract and PennDOT expects to name a winner at the end of October. The winning team will provide its own financing and be reimbursed by PennDOT over the life of the 28 and-a-half-year contract.
Construction of the new bridges is expected to start in the summer of 2015 and the bridges must be completed within the first three-and-a-half years. The winning team also assumes responsibility for major maintenance for 25 years.
“We believe we’re going to deliver these at a much better cost, in a much faster time frame’’ than conventional bridge replacements, Schoch said. He said that the savings could leave enough money to cover dozens of additional projects, while he called the maintenance requirement a sort of “warranty.’’
Of Pennsylvania’s more than 25,000 bridges, more than 4,000 are considered in dire need of repair.
The cost of the program is expected to be no more than 5 percent of the department’s $2.3 billion annual investment in highway and bridge projects.
The state will maintain ownership of the bridges, all of which are relatively simple, similar structures that require full replacement and pose minimal environmental conflicts. The state will handle snow and weed removal and retain the right to close a bridge in an emergency.
“We’re not transferring ownership here, we’re just transferring certain responsibilities to the private sector,’’ said Bryan Kendro, director of PennDOT’s Office of Policy and Public Private Partnerships.
The multi-company teams competing for the contract are Plenary Walsh Keystone Partners, Keystone Bridge Partners, Commonwealth Bridge Partners and Pennsylvania Crossings.