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House passes legislation to honor Rick Geist

July 17, 2020

The Pennsylvania House has passed and sent to the Senate a bill that would honor a longtime House Transportation Committee chair, the late Rick Geist.

Sponsored by Rep. Lou Schmitt (R-Blair), the bill would dedicate the 17th Street bridge over Interstate 99 in Logan Township as the Honorable Richard A. Geist Memorial Bridge. Representative Schmitt occupies the 79th District seat formerly held by Chairman Geist.

First elected in 1978, Rick served 17 terms in the House and was Transportation chair for nearly two decades. He was the longest-serving majority chair of that committee in House history. In 2011, he was named PHIA Advocate of the year. In August 2019, he died from a heart attack at age 74 while on vacation in Russia.

“Rick Geist was a tireless advocate for transportation,” said PHIA Managing Director Jason Wagner. “He was very well regarded among those in the construction industry, dozens of whom considered him not just an industry supporter, but a friend. He would appreciate being honored in this way.”

 

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New tool provides highway investment info

June 26, 2020

The American Road & Transportation Builders Association launched a tool this week that highlights the benefits of highway investment across the country.

It shows that Pennsylvania leveraged nearly $1.2 billion in federal funds to spur more than $2.2 billion in highway improvements in the 2018 fiscal year.

Called the ARTBA Highway Dashboard, the tool is designed to provide elected officials and the public with information about how and where states invest their transportation tax dollars. The tool comes as we approach the expiration of the federal FAST Act surface transportation law on Sept. 30.

In Pennsylvania, two-thirds of the cost of projects was for reconstruction or repair work on existing roads. Planning, design and engineering accounted for 13%, added capacity 12% and new construction 1%.

“This tool provides useful information for the public and policymakers as we get closer to the time that decisions on funding will need to be made,” said PHIA Managing Director Jason Wagner. “Sound decisions start with sound data, so we’re pleased to have it available.”

To view the ARTBA Highway Dashboard, click here.

ARTBA is a national trade association for the highway industry, with more than 8,000 public and private-sector members.

 

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New report cites poor condition of PA’s rural roads and bridges

May 15, 2020

Pennsylvania has the fifth-highest number of deteriorating rural bridges in the country, according to a new study by a national transportation research organization.

The report, produced by a Washington-based nonprofit organization known as TRIP, said 17% of Pennsylvania’s rural bridges are in poor condition, compared with a national average of 8%. It says the country faces a $211 billion backlog in funding for needed repairs and improvements to the rural transportation system.

The report also noted that in 2018, Pennsylvania had 479 fatalities on non-Interstate rural roads. The rate of traffic fatalities on these roads is significantly higher than the fatality rate on all other roads in the state – 2.05 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel vs. 0.90.

Moreover, Pennsylvania ranks 16th in the country in rural pavements in poor condition at 19%, compared with the U.S. average of 13%.

TRIP says the report focused on Rural America because it is the primary source of the energy, food and fiber that drives the U.S. economy. It accounts account for 97% of America’s land area and is home to the vast majority of the nation’s 2.2 million farms.

“This report comes at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is shrinking the revenue available to repair and maintain our bridges and highways,” said PHIA Managing Director Jason Wagner. “This is an issue that policymakers need to address quickly and comprehensively.”

The report, titled “Rural Connections: Challenges and Opportunities in America’s Heartland,” can be viewed at this link. For more information about TRIP, visit the organization’s website.

 

 

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Across Pa., highway projects set for restart

May 1, 2020

After suspending construction for six weeks due to COVID-19, contractors are preparing to restart bridge and highway projects across Pennsylvania as soon as May 1.

As construction resumes, there has been much discussion regarding the new COVID-19 safety plans. The plans, required for each individual project, must be submitted to PennDOT and accepted before work can resume.

Each construction project must have a designated a safety plan coordinator, and the contractors are responsible for keeping abreast of revisions mandated by the Centers for Disease Control, OSHA and the state Department of Health.

The plans incorporate safe-distancing requirements and other protocols designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and protect the health and safety of workers and the public. You can catch a glimpse of what a safe-distancing construction work zone looks like in this short video.

Next week, the industry will hear directly from PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian in an online meeting. Topics will include the increasingly worrisome post-pandemic PennDOT capital budget.

 

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Coronavirus is the newest threat to highway funding

April 16, 2020

Despite the troubles that swirl around us, there was a glimmer of positivity this week as the American Road & Transportation Builders Association released its annual report on the condition of the nation’s bridges.

In terms of the percentage of faulty bridges among all that the Commonwealth owns, Pennsylvania has fallen to fifth in the country, having held the dubious distinction of being No. 1 on the list for several years.

Act 89 of 2013 and the Public-Private Partnership known as the PA Rapid Bridge Replacement Program are largely responsible for the improvement. In 2013, Pennsylvania had more than 6,000 faulty bridges, and that number has been reduced by about half (we’re generalizing a bit here because different bridge counters have different ways for assessing and counting them).

In any event, ARTBA says the percentage of Pennsylvania’s faulty bridges has fallen to 15.3% of its total, sandwiched between South Dakota’s 17% and Louisiana’s 13.2%. Rhode Island tops the list with nearly one-quarter its spans rated as deficient. Rhode Island has 779 bridges compared with Pennsylvania’s 22,911.

Reacting to ARTBA’s report, APC’s Bob Latham noted that while the improved ranking is welcome news, there is considerable trouble on the horizon as tax revenue declines due to improving fuel efficiency, inflation increases the cost of labor and materials, and revenue raised to build and maintain highways continues to be diverted for non-transportation uses.

And a new and possibly more devastating funding challenge has raised its head. The nationwide lockdowns to fight the spread of COVID-19 are keeping people at home and their cars in the garage. It will have a yet-to-be determined negative impact on the fuel tax revenue available to repair and maintain our highways.

For the specific Pennsylvania bridge condition data, click here.