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Stimulus Money Keeps Philly-Area Roadways Busy

Fri September 10, 2010 - Northeast Edition
CEG



PHILADELPHIA (AP) Drivers in the Philadelphia region are increasingly finding themselves sitting in gridlock with the number of road repair and construction projects, many of them funded by stimulus money, now in progress along area highways.

In Philadelphia and the four surrounding counties, $646 million in federal and state money is being spent on roadwork, almost twice as much as is ordinarily approved for the region, according to Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials.

“We’re in a record year of construction coming off a record year of contract awards,” PennDOT spokesman Gene Blaum said. “We can only do so much to minimize the impact. We have to be on the roadway.”

Stimulus money has provided billions for state and local governments to build and repair roads and bridges. Blaum said the $257.7 million for the five-county region has started 30 projects that otherwise wouldn’t have happened for a number of years.

New Jersey also is topping records for road and bridge work, largely due to $652 million in federal stimulus aid, said Tim Greeley, a spokesman of the state Department of Transportation.

“All of these construction projects are a necessary evil,” said Jim Lardear, director of public and government affairs of AAA Mid-Atlantic, which covers the region from Virginia through New Jersey. “With the feds pushing stimulus money out the door ... there is just no easy answer around congestion.”

Blaum said the state transportation department is not the sole source of the tie-ups, since utility work also is being done along with projects by municipalities. And the Pennsylvania Turnpike said it is doing two major widening projects in Montgomery and Chester Counties, and overhead bridges must be rebuilt before roadwork begins.

Lardear said recent polling by his organization in the Philadelphia area indicates that drivers think congestion is getting worse and is a major source of a growing problem of aggressive driving.

“In construction zones, there is little margin for driver error,” he said.