August 5, 2021
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The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has selected an initial group of bridges under consideration for its Pathways Major Bridge Public-Private Partnership or P3 Initiative.

[Above photo of the I-95 Girard Point Bridge by PennDOT.]

This initiative is also the result of an alternative funding Planning and Environmental Linkages or PEL study currently underway – part of an effort to identify near- and long-term funding solutions to support this P3 program as well as for the state’s overall transportation system.

Yassmin Gramian. Photo by PennDOT.

“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,” noted Yassmin Gramian, PennDOT’s secretary, in a statement. “This initiative will help us make much-needed improvements without compromising the routine projects our communities and industry partners rely on.”

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. Through the P3 model, PennDOT said it can leverage private investment to rebuild critical bridges during “a period with historically low interest rates” and a “favorable” labor market.

Currently, PennDOT said its highway and bridge budget for construction and maintenance totals roughly $6.9 billion per year – less than half of the $15 billion the agency said is needed to keep Pennsylvania’s highways and bridges in a state of good repair and address major bottlenecks on our roadway network.

PennDOT added that any tolling plan would be all-electronic and be collected by using E-ZPass or license plate billing. The funds received from the tolls would then go back to the bridge where the toll is collected to pay for the construction, maintenance, and operation of that bridge.

PennDOT added that 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” as well to ensure fair, competitive, and local participation in the P3 procurement process to replace them.

Over the next year, PennDOT will evaluate these candidate bridges through individual environmental documents being prepared or re-evaluated for each bridge.

editor@aashto.org

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