Act 89 funds allow bridge, road improvements to move forward

Pennsylvania's 2014 construction season got a boost from the state's new transportation package that will give the green light to 23 extra projects in southwestern Pennsylvania, officials said Thursday.

The funds from Act 89 will cover 11 projects in Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's District 11, which consists of Allegheny, Lawrence and Beaver counties, including an estimated $40 million Birmingham Bridge rehabilitation and a $15 million Route 50 reconstruction, both expected to start in July. Another dozen efforts are scheduled to begin this year in District 12, which consists of Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

Gov. Tom Corbett last fall signed the $2.3 billion transportation plan approved by the Legislature, with funding coming from vehicle fees and lifting a cap on the oil company franchise tax paid by fuel distributors.

On Thursday, Mr. Corbett, flanked by a host of the bill's supporters at an event at a PennDOT garage in Harrisburg, touted the new projects and construction jobs Pennsylvanians can expect to see this year.

"Transportation is not a partisan issue," Mr. Corbett said.

The state will spend an estimated $238 million for 86 projects this year in Allegheny County, including 44 bridges.

Executives from Districts 11 and 12 at a Thursday media briefing on the 2014 plans said Act 89 pushed up projects scheduled to begin as early as a year away -- and some that planners might not have conceived for four or five years.

The Birmingham Bridge Preservation Project, a full rehabilitation expected to end in late 2016, is one example.

"That is something that -- it would not have fit in our program, and we would have had to remove about 30 other bridges [to do that project before Act 89 was approved]," District 11 Executive Dan Cessna said. "So with new funds, we're able to advance that."

At six lanes wide, the tied-arch bridge connecting Oakland and the South Side is one of the biggest in Western Pennsylvania. It was the only project ever built as part of what was supposed to have been an inner-city beltway between the Mon Valley and Route 28.

Other projects include Route 50 road reconstruction from Washington County to Millers Run Road in South Fayette, estimated at between $15 million and $16 million and includes guiderail, barrier, drainage and signal upgrades. Mr. Cessna said this project is expected to be finished in November 2015 and the bulk of the work will come next year.

Already budgeted for construction at between $48 million and $51 million are Parkway West upgrades including milling and resurfacing, shoulder reconstruction and replacing the decks of three bridges at the Carnegie interchange. Mr. Cessna called that effort, set to begin in the late summer or fall, the biggest project to start this year and said it's expected to be completed in December 2015.

Utility relocation work has already begun on a $10.7 million project to mill and pave, widen and add a center turning lane to Route 286, Golden Mile Highway from Route 22 to around Old Frankstown Road in Monroeville. Crews will maintain a single lane in each direction during construction, expected to end in late 2015.

PennDOT officials also announced that more than 100 state- and locally owned bridges will see weight restrictions lifted this year as the department's bridge rehabilitation plan starts.

Also on Thursday, officials gave updates on several 2013 projects continuing this year, including the massive Route 28 construction, which Mr. Cessna said is on schedule and is expected to be completed by Thanksgiving.

The $49.4 million Squirrel Hill Tunnels rehabilitation project will wrap up in August, but not without some more single-direction weekend closures through the spring and summer and lane closures in both directions on weeknights.

In related news, Mr. Corbett is considering providing an additional $100 million statewide for road resurfacing after the rough winter, Mr. Cessna said, adding that this region's highest priority is I-79 from Wexford to Cranberry.

"That section of road did not winter very well, and we may add that to the paving list."

Asked why other bridges weren't considered for this year, such as the Elizabeth and the Liberty bridges, officials said both are still under design. Both have weight restrictions.

Mr. Cessna said Liberty Bridge construction, estimated at $60 million to $70 million, could start next year and is expected to have significant impact on drivers coming in and out of the city.



Click on the map below to see details of PennDOT's improvement projects, or see a table outlining the details.

Molly Born: or 412-263-1944. Kate Giammarise contributed. First Published April 3, 2014 2:55 PM

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