PA: Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission set to Approve Billions in Transportation Spending

July 27--A four-year, $4.7 billion plan to build or rehab the region's ailing transportation infrastructure that is set to be approved on Monday would represent a 52 percent spending increase over the last four-year plan, largely because of the state's new transportation law, officials said.

The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, which includes elected officials from a 10-county region, is scheduled to vote on its Transportation Improvement Program, which would outline the next four years of projects.

"We try to put politics aside and try to do what's good for the whole region," said Washington County Commissioner Larry Maggi, who serves as secretary-treasurer of the commission. "I think everyone is generally happy with the process."

Getting on the TIP list doesn't guarantee a project will move forward, but projects that didn't make the list will not.

Among the most expensive projects is a controversial turnpike plan to build the Southern Beltway, which would connect Interstate 79 to the existing Findlay Connector and Pittsburgh International Airport. The project would cost an estimated $666 million, $359 million of which would be needed in the next four years.

Also included are plans to rehab the Liberty Bridge for $79 million; fix the Elizabeth Bridge for $17 million; reconstruct Route 119 in Westmoreland County for $44 million; and reconfigure the I-376 and Route 18 interchange in Beaver County for $60 million.

The Improvement Program can be amended after two years.

"There's a tremendous amount of resurfacing," said PennDOT District 11 Executive Dan Cessna, whose region includes Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties. "From our perspective, it's an exceptional list. We'll be able to make major inroads in fixing existing infrastructure."

Cessna said the plan does not include a $150 million project on the Parkway West to modernize the Banksville, Green Tree and Carnegie interchanges, meaning those plans will have to wait for at least two years. That won't affect an already-approved $51 million Parkway West resurfacing project and Fort Pitt Tunnel work.

The plan includes about $1.8 billion for transit, including $1 billion in operating assistance for the Port Authority of Allegheny County. The public had about a month until July 18 to offer comments on the plan.

"The big item, of course, is the Southern Beltway," said Westmoreland County Commissioner Charles Anderson, vice-chairman of the commission. "I'd like to have some projects a little bit higher on the list, and of course a lot more for Westmoreland County, but this is a regional thing."

During this construction season, $2.1 billion was spent on road and bridge projects statewide -- projects included on previous TIP lists -- about $600 million more than what would have been available without the transportation bill that Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law last fall. The legislation hiked vehicle-related fees and the wholesale gas tax to pay for the extra work.

PennDOT slapped weight restrictions on 2,000 structurally deficient bridges last year. About 100 of those restrictions will be lifted this year when repairs are done.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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