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Repairs to Old Roads, Bridges in PA Could Happen More Quickly

Wed December 03, 2003 - Northeast Edition

HARRISBURG, PA (AP) Some of Pennsylvania’s aging highways and bridges could get repaired more quickly under a proposed state rule that would speed up the permitting process designed to protect waterways, state officials said.

The proposed rule garnered praise from representatives of the building industries who said the change could save them time and money, and encourage contractors to take up expensive urban revitalization projects.

More than anything, the proposed Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) rule is at least a sign of progress to building industry representatives who can cite many examples of bureaucracy that keep construction projects waiting.

“On issues like these, we actually have a chance now,” said Brian Fraley, director of field services for Associated Pennsylvania Constructors.

But one environmental group expressed concern that the proposed rule could allow a project as large as the replacement of a heavily traveled bridge over a major river to receive even less environmental analysis.

“We feel that those kinds of projects require a larger, more in-depth permit review,” said Matt Royer, a staff attorney for Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future. Projects covered by the DEP’s proposed rule are not ones “that you can shoehorn into a standard design formula,” Royer said.

The permits are required to ensure that proper erosion and storm-water controls are in place to meet state and federal clean water laws.

The proposed “general permit” would take up to 30 days to issue and apply to many low-impact work projects including bridges, highways, sewer lines, water culverts, and utilities that are in a waterway, or a waterway’s flood area. In some cases, a general permit could cover multiple projects.

Currently, each of those projects, regardless of scope, require an “individual permit” that takes up to 120 days to issue. The DEP said that 22 percent of the individual permits issued since 1995 could have been requested under the proposed general permit rule.

Repairs, modifications or replacements that would mean minor deviations in a structure’s footprint or contents could be fast-tracked, provided that environmental impacts resulting from the work are “minimal and there is no adverse impact on public health and safety,” according to a draft of the proposed permitting rule.

The general permit would require the same environmental controls, but it would not require contractors to file as much detail on each of the projects, and less review would be needed, DEP spokesman Kurt Knaus said. It also does not include a public commentary period required for each individual permit application, he said.

The DEP plans to file its proposal for the general permit in the Pennsylvania Bulletin later this week, after which a 60-day public comment period will follow, Knaus said. The DEP will then review the comments and consider changes to the rule before enforcing it, Knaus said.

Debra Tingley, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Builders Association, said the proposed rule would help homebuilders in urban environments more quickly replace aging water and sewer lines.

“We absolutely applaud the general permit,” Tingley said. “Our bottom line is that we think it will make it a little less expensive to do business in the cities.”