New funding will allow PennDOT to do more paving

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First, drivers are going to see more potholes. Then, thanks to a funding infusion from the new state transportation law, they're going to see more paving.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation was prepared for a bare-bones $1.5 billion statewide road and bridge improvement program this year, but enactment of Act 89 by the Legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett will grow the program by $600 million to $800 million, Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch said Wednesday.

As bad as the potholes are now, "it's going to get worse in the next month" as the weather gets warmer, Mr. Schoch told a forum sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Sustainable Transportation Infrastructure. "Our roads are taking a beating."

PennDOT is putting the finishing touches on a program that will have "a lot of additional paving," he said.

Money will be shifted to address the roads that are in the worst shape.

The new law also will allow the state to continue to rehabilitate structurally deficient bridges.

In recent years, PennDOT has reduced its inventory of deficient bridges from more than 6,000 to about 4,200, but its focus on bridge work has led to deteriorating road conditions.

PennDOT is moving ahead with plans for a public-private partnership that will replace 400 to 600 smaller bridges starting in 2015.

A private consortium will be chosen to design, build and maintain the bridges in return for payments from PennDOT that will be tied to performance.

Five teams made up of engineering, construction and finance companies are competing for the contract.

Having additional funding will enable the department to fully reconstruct older roads rather than just adding a layer of new pavement, Mr. Schoch said.

Another focus of this year's program will be traffic signal upgrades, using technology that adjusts signal timing based on real-time traffic volume.

Act 89 for the first time will allow the state to contribute toward improvements of locally owned roads, he said. While PennDOT maintains 40,000 miles of roads, municipalities own about 77,000 miles, the secretary said.

Dan Cessna, PennDOT district executive for Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties, said those counties will see additional paving and bridge work this year.

Project details will be announced within the next several weeks, he said.

The transportation law, funded largely by removal of a cap on the tax on gasoline wholesalers and increases in driver fees and fines, will allow PennDOT to steadily increase transportation spending to $2.6 billion by 2018, or about $1.1 billion per year more than if the measure had not passed.

Jon Schmitz: or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at Twitter: @pgtraffic.

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