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Public-private partnership rapidly replacing Pennsylvania's dangerous bridges

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April 10, 2017

The Washington Times published a story about the Rapid Bridge Replacement Project with a focus on bridges that are being replaced in Washington and Greene counties. To view the story online, visit: 

Decades of erosion have dramatically raised the creek bed below a small bridge over House Run in Greene County, causing the span to suffer repeated damage during floods, which send rushing water over its deck.

The bridge along Route 18 in the village of Holbrook in Greene County also is at the end of its life and one of 558 structurally deficient spans that are to be replaced in Pennsylvania by 2018 under a new public-private partnership created to rapidly deal with the state's small, decaying bridges. 
“Once they get started, they're in and out quickly,” PennDOT District 11 Executive Dan Cessna said. 
PennsylvaniaAct 88 of 2012 enabled the state Department of Transportation to enter into public-private partnerships, otherwise known as P3. It's designed to save money and streamline the construction schedule for the new small bridges, said Michael Bonini of the state's public-private partnerships office. 

“It's going to be a busy year in Washington and Greene counties,” Bonini said. 
There are 25 such bridges in Washington County scheduled to be replaced by 2018, including one along Route 88 at the Speers/Charleroi line that will close the heavily traveled road for two months during construction next year. Eleven Washington County bridges are on target to be replaced this year. 
Greene County has 13 bridges in the plan. Two of them already have been completed, and 10 are to be reconstructed this year. 
“When we plan for these projects, we ensure that we've got the right people working on the jobs to get the jobs done on time,” said Jeff Rossi, who is assigned to the projects in Western Pennsylvania for Walsh Granite of Pittsburgh's office in Findlay Township. 
Pennsylvania has often been cited as being among the states with the largest number of structurally deficient bridges, having had 6,034 of them in 2008. PennDOT spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick said that number has since been reduced to 3,512. 
“We've made a lot of progress,” Kirkpatrick said. 
He said Pennsylvania's bridges are old, and that another 250 structurally deficient spans are added to the list every year. 
“It's an ongoing challenge,” he said. 
The state became a national embarrassment in December 2005 when a neglected, concrete overpass collapsed onto Interstate 70 in South Strabane Township, injuring a woman and child whose van crashed into the debris. The collapse resulted in lawmakers in Harrisburg making bridge repairs a priority. 
Pennsylvania has recorded 18 percent of its bridges as crumbling, while the national average is 7.3 percent, PennDOT records show. The new P3 program resulted in 124 small bridges being replaced last year, Bonini said. 
“It's going to accelerate,” he added. 
PennDOT selected as its private partner for the P3 program Plenary Walsh Keystone Partners, a group of companies using 11 state-based subcontractors to design and construct the small bridges, and then maintain them for 25 years. Walsh Construction is based in Chicago, while Plenary Group is a company that specializes in public-private partnerships and is headquartered in Melbourne, Australia. 
PennDOT will retain ownership of the new bridges under the $899 million contract. 
Meanwhile, PennDOT has permission from the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue as much as $1.2 billion in low-interest private activity bonds to finance this project, state records show. 
Contractors are motivated to complete the bridges on schedule because they can face stiff fines for each day a project is delayed. 
“You're obviously motivated for not losing your investment,” Rossi said. “We're getting in and getting out quickly.” 
PennDOT District 11 spokesman Steve Cowan said his region encompassing Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties was the first in the state to launch an “early completion” program in 2015, and he deemed the effort a success. The program has rebuilt 31 bridges in his district. Another 44 are on the replacement list this year, including 27 in Allegheny. 
“It takes a lot of coordination when you see how many projects the department oversees,” Cowan said. “You want to make sure there are no conflicts between the projects or detour routes.” 
State Rep. Pam Snyder said the program is important, especially in rural areas that need numerous small bridges to be replaced quickly. She called it a “good example” of how the public and private sectors can work efficiently together, allowing PennDOT to focus on larger projects. 
“This streamlines it. You have a cookie-cutter design,” said Snyder, D-Jefferson. “It looks like, from what's happening to date, it's working.” 
Structurally Deficient Bridges of Southwestern Pennsylvania
PennDOT keeps track of structurally deficient bridges throughout the state, both state-owned and locally owned. Here is a map of all bridges in Washington and Greene counties currently labeled as "structurally deficient." The current count is 310. 

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