Tolls planned to fund Pennsylvania initiative to replace, upgrade bridges

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I 80 Canoe Creek Bridge
Improvements Interstate 80 Canoe Creek bridges in Pennsylvania’s Clarion County are part of the state’s public-private partnership initiative to create sustainable funding for infrastructure projects. The bridges are expected to carry a combined average of 30,199 vehicles per day by 2025; about 50% of the traffic across the bridges is truck traffic. (Courtesy: Pennsylvania Department of Transportation)

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) on Feb. 18 announced the bridges under consideration for the PennDOT Pathways Major Bridge Public-Private Partnership (P3) Initiative. The initiative is part of the agency’s study exploring sustainable transportation funding methods — namely, in this case, through bridge tolls.

“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 underway 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, PennDOT is pursuing the first initiative of the PennDOT Pathways Program: The Major Bridge P3 Initiative.

Approved by the Pennsylvania P3 Board in November, the Major Bridge P3 Initiative 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. Through the P3 model, PennDOT can leverage private investment to rebuild critical bridges during a period with historically low interest rates and a favorable labor market. 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 Major Bridge P3 Initiative are structures of substantial size that warrant timely attention and would require significant funds to rehabilitate 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:

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. PennDOT is analyzing potential structures for project bundles to ensure fair, competitive and local participation in the P3 procurement to replace these bridges and anticipates issuing a Request for Information to industry partners in the week of February 22 to gather industry feedback on the project, with a Request for Qualifications anticipated this spring.

According to a statement from PennDOT, bridge tolling provides funds to reconstruct or replace bridges without depleting the agency’s ability to complete current projects, 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 funds 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 bridge.

For more information about PennDOT Pathways and the Major Bridge P3 Initiative, click here.

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