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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.

 

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Encouraging news from Harrisburg and Washington

April 2, 2020

PennDOT announced this week that 61 emergency and critical highway and bridge projects will resume statewide. While the entire highway and bridge construction program was paused as the Commonwealth addressed the COVID-19 response, urgent emergency work is now continuing in order to ensure a reliable transportation system as circumstances surrounding COVID-19 unfold.

Reacting to the announcement, APC’s Bob Latham first commended Governor Wolf for his leadership in addressing the pandemic. He also applauded acting PennDOT Secretary Yasmin Gramian for her role in restarting some of the projects that are critical to the safety and welfare of Pennsylvania residents.

“The industry now has an opportunity to demonstrate our ability to resume emergency repairs for essential projects while protecting the health of construction workers and the public,” said PHIA Managing Director Jason Wagner. “The restart program needs to move forward, because there are many more life-sustaining construction projects either in progress or will be soon.”

APC members worked with PennDOT, the Turnpike Commission and industry partners to develop safety standards that will avoid spreading the virus. They include cleanliness protocols for jobsites and offices, social distancing guidelines, procedures to address employee sickness, and the safe handling of material deliveries.

Meanwhile, in Washington…

While by now we are conditioned to be skeptical, there are signs that an infrastructure funding initiative could be gaining some traction as part of an emerging fourth phase of the coronavirus economic recovery bill.

On Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that infrastructure should be part of the bill. The following day, President Trump embraced the idea in a tweet, suggesting that it should be around $2 trillion and focus on jobs and rebuilding the infrastructure.

Infrastructure has traditionally been a bipartisan issue for Congress, and it was a top 2016 campaign issue for Trump, but he has yet to reach an agreement with Congress, at least in part because of the challenge of funding a program. A $2 trillion infrastructure program as part of the recovery bill would be a significant contribution. As always, we approach the idea with hopes that this time there will be consensus.

 

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Pandemic causes projects and activities to grind to a halt

March 19, 2020

The worsening coronavirus disease pandemic has led to a number of sudden event postponements and cancellations, and many others are up in the air as we try to get a handle on combatting the spread of the virus.

The House Transportation Committee hearing on various funding measures, scheduled for Monday of this week, will be rescheduled. Part 2 of the hearing, which is scheduled for April, may not happen as planned.

Our PHIA Policy Breakfast, which had been set for Tuesday of this week, was also a casualty, as was an APC legislative update webinar. If there is any bright side, it’s that we’re getting good use out of the telecommunications upgrade APC installed in its offices last year.

Additionally, PennDOT shut down many of its operations and suspended construction projects across the Commonwealth and closed the license and registration centers. We will see in the coming days when those activities will resume. As many of us follow Governor Wolf’s two-week self-quarantine recommendations, we look forward to returning to some semblance of normal as soon as we can.

Until then, we hope everyone stays comfortable and safe.

 

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Ron Geist, former PHIA managing director, passes away at age 76

March 9, 2020

 

PHIA is saddened to announce the passing over the weekend of Ron Geist, former PHIA managing director. In addition to his PHIA duties, Ron served from 1992 to 2017 as APC deputy executive secretary.

In the words of former PHIA president Tom Lawson, Ron “served the industry with passion and kindness that is difficult to duplicate.” He will be missed by his many friends and family, to whom we extend our heartfelt condolences.

A memorial service is being planned for the near future.

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Automated speed enforcement begins

March 9, 2020

Beginning today, speeding through highway work zones could start costing you money. Automated speed enforcement targets those who violate the posted speed limit by at least 12 miles per hour. A first offense will draw only a warning, a second time will cost $75, with subsequent offenses costing $150.

PHIA and the construction industry worked long and hard to advance this initiative. We know it works, because Maryland’s program has reduced work zone speed violations to less than 1 percent of drivers. The rate was 7 percent when the program began several years ago.

“Those who complain about this program contend it’s simply a government money-grab, but the experience in Maryland shows the opposite,” said PHIA Managing Director Jason Wagner. “Fine revenue has actually decreased in Maryland because the driving public has learned that breaking the speed laws in work zones will take money out of their pockets.”

Wagner noted that speed and distracted driving – or both – are the leading causes of work zone crashes.

“Highway workers deserve to go home to their families after their shifts, just like everyone else,” Wagner said. “This law will save lives and prevent serious injuries, not only for construction workers but for motorists as well.”