Newly passed transportation bill to aid bridges, U.S. Route 219

Posted on June 30th, 2012

The Bradford Era (June 30, 2012)

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., announced Friday that the U.S. Senate passed a transportation bill which aims to create jobs in Pennsylvania as well as improve the state’s aging infrastructure.

Termed the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, the bill will direct nearly $3.2 billion to Pennsylvania over the next two years and maintain current levels of funding for the remainder of fiscal year 2012.

The bill includes several measures authored by Casey which are intended to aid the Commonwealth, including a provision to improve bridges maintained by counties throughout the state.

This provision would establish a dedicated revenue stream through the Off-System Bridge Program for bridges that are not on federal aid or the National Highway System.

In the local region, there are numerous off-system bridges. Cameron County has 34 such bridges, Elk County has 64, Potter County has 118 and McKean County has 101 bridges which do not currently receive federal aid or are not part of the National Highway System.

However, McKean County Commissioner Joe DeMott told The Era Friday that only five of the 101 of the off-system bridges in the county are owned by McKean County. The rest, DeMott said, are owned by municipalities within the county, and it is these townships and boroughs which bear the cost of maintaining the other 96 off-system bridges in McKean County.

It is unclear whether the dedicated revenue stream will allocate funds to the maintenance of all off-system bridges throughout the state since that money will be coming through the Off-System Bridge Program, or whether financial assistance will be given to those bridges maintained by counties.

Calls and e-mails to Casey’s office were not immediately returned Friday night.

According to a news release issued Friday, Casey’s amendment is meant to ensures that counties are not left bearing the full responsibility of the cost of their off-system bridge needs.

“It gives states and counties the proper tools and the assurance of a steady flow of funding needed to maintain our nation’s bridges,” the release states.

DeMott said this would be very helpful to many counties throughout the state, but was unsure of how it might affect McKean County.

“For counties in general in Pennsylvania, that’s good news,” he commented. “The County Commissioners Association has been trying to get some sort of federal ‘carve-out’ for bridges that are not on the federal highway system for some time.

“In McKean County, though, I believe the state owns all the bridges that are on state high- ways. The county only owns five major bridges and most of them are fairly new,” DeMott explained. “We probably won’t have the maintenance costs that a lot of other counties are facing.”

He said the Coleman Mills and Boyer Crossing bridges that cross the Allegany River in Liberty Township are around five years old, and the Brooklynside Bridge in Port Allegany, which also crosses the Allegany, was replaced about 15 years ago and the Galico Bridge in Keating Township is brand new, opening just a few weeks ago. The Kennedy Street Bridge in Bradford recently underwent extensive renovation and is in “good shape,” according to DeMott.

“So, as far as bridge repair, we don’t have any major construction pending,” he said. “I don’t know if Senator Casey’s amendment includes township roads and bridges, but we have a lot of deficient municipal- owned bridges in the county and hopefully some of that money will extend to the townships for work on their bridges.

“It could be that the money would be administered through counties and passed on to townships or it could only be for county-owned bridges,” DeMott stated.

Also in the transportation bill, investment is set to be made in U.S. Route 219 and Bolster the Appalachian Highway System — a provision which would provide states with more flexibility as they use their transportation resources, according to the press release.

While the measure means good news for Route 219, the funding is set to work on the highway from Somerset to Meyersdale in the southern part of the state, rather than this local area.

Meg Lauerman of Continental 1, a project to complete Route 219 as part of a highway system stretching from Canada to Florida, told The Era Friday that she is “delighted” to hear of the news.

“We have been working tirelessly to get that passed,” she said. “This was long sought after and really fantastic news for all of Pennsylvania. It very well may be the push we need to connect Interstate 86 and Interstate 80 in the state.”

It seems the portion of Route 219 in northwest Pennsylvania will not be affected directly by the legislation, but a good news for the Commonwealth is good news for the local region as well.

By AMANDA NICHOLS
Era Reporter
a.nichols@bradfordera.com