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SW Pennsylvania Transit Plan Allocates $1.5B for Bridge, Infrastructure Upgrades

Thu June 23, 2022 - Northeast Edition
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Roads and bridges in southwestern Pennsylvania will see a $300 million boost in funding because of 2021's federal infrastructure funding law, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported June 16.

The extra money is included in a regional plan for $1.5 billion in transportation projects that is set to be approved June 27 by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC).

The commission's Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) covers 2023 through 2026 and includes increases in funding for bridges, highway safety improvements and bike-and-pedestrian infrastructure compared to the earlier program.

The SPC is responsible for allocating state and federal funds to local transportation projects across 10 regional Pennsylvania counties that surround Pittsburgh, according to the newspaper.

Out of the $300 million increase in funding under the commission's authority, $100 million is earmarked just for bridges.

At a June 1 public meeting, SPC staff explained that the increase in funding for Pittsburgh-area transportation infrastructure is due to the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law passed by Congress last fall.

"With passage of the bipartisan law, the highway and bridge funding is back up to higher levels," Domenic D'Andrea, SPC's director of transportation planning, told the Tribune-Review.

Although southwestern Pennsylvania roads and bridges emerged as the biggest beneficiaries from the new monies, bike-and-pedestrian improvements, while still comparatively small, also saw a big jump and increased five-fold compared to the last TIP, the Pittsburgh news source noted.

Funds for public transit also saw a modest jump, according to D'Andrea, who said this includes some money for capital improvements, with most going toward operations. A chunk of public transit funds is funneled to the Port Authority of Allegheny County — rebranded Pittsburgh Regional Transit earlier in June — the region's largest public transit agency.

Allegheny Valley

SPC officials said there are more than 130 projects on the TIP in Allegheny County alone, combining for approximately $96 million in funding.

"In Allegheny County, the story really is major bridge investment," said Ryan Gordon, SPC manager of Transportation Program Development.

The Tribune-Review reported that big bridge repairs are coming to the Alle-Kiski Valley, due to the allocation, while both the New Kensington Bridge and Tarentum Bridge also will see restoration work — the latter to the tune of $12.7 million.

Tarentum Council President Scott Dadowski said any investments the TIP brings to the region would be a boon to area residents and the borough itself.

"The Tarentum Bridge is obviously a major roadway that leads motorists through and into our town," he explained. "Any improvements to the bridge in terms of safety measures, traffic flow and overall condition would be met with open arms."

Although the Tarentum Bridge is rated in fair condition by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), Dadowski said failures like the Jan. 28 collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge in Pittsburgh show how important it is to be proactive about keeping these structures in excellent repair.

Other funds distributed to the Alle-Kiski Valley include $17 million for preservation of the New Kensington Bridge, $1 million for preservation of the Freeport Bridge Truss, and $2.6 million to upgrade nearly a dozen railroad crossings in New Kensington.

Angela Saunders, with PennDOT's District 12, said so many improvements to railroad crossings in one county is rare.

"This was a very big get for this area," she told the Tribune-Review.

City of Pittsburgh

The Steel City also is set to get almost $40 million in funding to repair some of its bridges. Among the projects are improvements to the West End Bridge, the Swinburne Bridge, and the Charles Anderson Bridge in Schenley Park, which concerns neighbors due to the visible deterioration to its undercarriage.

Pittsburgh also is the beneficiary of nearly $41 million for public transit, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, including funding to fix gaps in the city's sidewalks and bus purchases for the city's Regional Transit system.

Overall, the 2023-26 TIP dedicates about $18 million to the Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside Program, which expands bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. This is more than a 500 percent increase in funding compared to the earlier TIP

Scott Bricker is the director of Bike Pittsburgh, a bike/pedestrian advocacy group, and a board member of the SPC. In speaking with the Tribune-Review, he said he supports more money for city bridges and is excited about the increase in bike/ped funding. But he is tempering that with the reality of how much lower the bike/ped funds are compared to funding for highways and roads.

"Of course, I want to celebrate the increased bike and pedestrian funding in the region," he elaborated. "But it's hard to get too excited about that level of bike/ped funding when you see a single interchange widening project is $42.5 million."

Interstate 70 alone is set to receive more than $200 million in investment from the TIP.

Westmoreland County

U.S. Highway 30 is set to get $36 million for improvements to the road's western section, stretches in the town of Hempfield, and adaptive signal upgrades.

Westmoreland County Commissioner Gina Cerilli Thrasher, who also serves on the SPC board, said U.S. 30 improvements will address safety and congestion concerns about the roadway.

The TIP also invests nearly $40 million for the Laurel Valley Transportation Improvement Project. Cerilli Thrasher told the Pittsburgh news source that this project will provide better access to Arnold Palmer Airport and support the manufacturing base in and around Latrobe.

Another $50 million will go toward county bridge repairs, including the West Newton Bridge and the Salina Bridge. According to PennDOT, 78 of 733 state bridges that are more than 20 ft. long in Westmoreland County are in poor condition.

Cerilli Thrasher said these funds are essential to the area.

"Continued investment in our infrastructure is crucial to ensure our roads, bridges and trail systems remain an asset countywide," she explained. "These investments illustrate we are getting priorities done."

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