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Will Congress put a pothole in the path to better transportation?

Written by Jon Schmitz on .

A much-publicized report last week by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association highlighted Pennsylvania’s place as the national leader in structurally deficient bridges and warned that congressional inaction on long-term transportation funding would worsen a situation where there already are 63,000 deficient bridges in the U.S.

pasignThe point is well-taken and Pennsylvania’s bridge situation is still far from ideal. The federal law authorizing transportation funding expires at the end of September. The federal Highway Trust Fund is expected to run out of money before then. Congressional inaction could jeopardize $1.9 billion in federal transportation aid that Pennsylvania gets.

TRIP, a nonprofit transportation research organization in Washington, D.C., that is funded in part by highway and construction interests, said this last month:

"The impact of inadequate federal surface transportation revenues could be felt as early as summer of 2014, when the balance in the Highway Account of the federal Highway Trust Fund is expected to drop below $1 billion, which will trigger delays in the federal reimbursement to states for road, highway and bridge projects. States are expected to respond to this delay in federal reimbursement for road, highway and bridge repairs and improvements by delaying or postponing numerous projects."

That would reverse the gains made when state lawmakers and Gov. Tom Corbett bit the political bullet and approved a transportation funding bill that eventually will generate $2.5 billion in additional revenue to fixing bridges and roads and maintaining transit. It would fully offset the additional state funding in the earlier years of the legislation.

The ARTBA report used older data that does not reflect the recent progress PennDOT has made in reducing its inventory of structurally deficient bridges from more than 6,000 to 4,200. That is not to say “problem solved,” although the state — if federal funding is maintained — will continue to make great strides in coming years to bring down the number.

In addition to the state’s 4,200 deficient bridges, 2,264 of the 6,434 locally owned bridges longer than 20 feet are structually deficient, meaning not that they are unsafe but that they show signs of deterioration that could ultimately result in weight limits or full closures.

With Pennsylvania gunning the engine on transportation improvements, especially on bridges, it would be a shame if Congress dug a big pothole in its path.

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79

We have an update from PennDOT about the emergency lane closures on Interstate 79 north of Zelienople. The around-the-clock closures now exist in both directions at small twin bridges that were struck by a truck and damaged in March. An emergency contract has been awarded for repairs but it looks like drivers will deal with single-lane traffic and delays into August. See the previous post for a fairly painless detour to avoid the backups that are occurring there almost daily.

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Several Port Authority afternoon bus trips are likely to be delayed starting today because of the northbound closure of Lebanon Road-Route 885 in West Mifflin, the agency announced. A bridge replacement project has closed Lebanon Road to northbound traffic at Lebanon Church Road. That will cause delays for buses entering and leaving the authority’s West Mifflin Garage. Affected routes are the 51, 51L, 52L, 53, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, all 61-series routes, 64, 65, 81, 83, P3, P7, P76 and all Y routes. The road closure is scheduled to continue through mid-May, according to PennDOT.

Also tonight, eight bus routes will face a small detour in Downtown Pittsburgh starting at 7:30 p.m. because of a closure of Sixth Avenue for work on the roof of Wood Street Station. Affected are 61- and 71-series routes. The Sixth Avenue entrance to Wood Street Station will be closed but T riders can access the station from Wood Street. The same closures will be in effect on Mondays throughout May.

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menatworkLane and ramp closures on Route 22/30 in North Fayette have been extended. The lane closures in both directions between Montour Church Road and a point just west of the bridge over McKee Road will continue through May 31. McKee Road and the Route 22/30 eastbound on-ramp and westbound off-ramp at McKee Road will stay closed through Saturday.

Still to come as part of the project are milling and resurfacing on Route 60 and Route 22/30, repairs to the Route 22/30 bridge over McKee Road, repairs to the Old Steubenville Pike bridge over Route 22/30, traffic signal repairs and pedestrian ramp installation. Improvements on Route 60 will take place between the intersection of Park Manor Drive in Robinson and approximately 1,100 feet east of Haddock Road in Kennedy. The project will conclude in June 2015.

Inspection of the Elizabeth Bridge on Route 51 will cause lane closures starting today and continuing on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. through May 9. Right-lane closures are possible in both directions.

Overnight inspections will close one lane of the Fort Pitt Tunnels on Tuesday and Thursday. The inbound tunnel goes to one lane at 10 p.m. Tuesday; outbound at 10 p.m. Thursday. The all-clear is sounded by 5 a.m.

Lane closures are possible on Route 28 in O’Hara and Sharpsburg nightly through Friday during bridge washing. Work begins at 8 p.m. and concludes by 6 a.m. Lane closures also are possible on Kittanning Pike and Scout Reservation Road in Sharpsburg and South Oak Hill Road in O’Hara.

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