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PennDOT Announces Next Steps of P3 Initiative

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

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Last month, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation released a list of bridges it was considering for its PennDOT Pathways Major Bridge Public-Private Partnership (P3) Initiative, a new transportation initiative that will help accelerate the reconstruction and rehabilitation of major bridges within the state.

The selected bridges will be used as a part of the Department’s study to explore sustainable transportation funding methods and completing critical projects. The recent release also included information on upcoming industry opportunities.

"Our reliance on funding models from the last century leaves us especially vulnerable to fund losses stemming from volatile economic conditions and the increasing transition to alternative-fuel or electric vehicles," PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian said. "This initiative will help us make much-needed improvements without compromising the routine projects our communities and industry partners rely on."

Major Bridge P3 Program

On Nov. 12, 2020, the Pennsylvania Public Private Transportation Partnership (P3) Board approved the Major Bridge P3 Program, which in addition to accelerating bridge reconstruction and rehabilitation projects, is also a component of PennDOT’s forthcoming Pathways initiative, which aims to identify sustainable transportation funding options in response to a growing highway and bridge funding gap.

The Pathways initiative is supported by an alternative funding study, Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL), which intends to identify near- and long-term funding solutions for the overall transportation system and establish a methodology for their evaluation.

Last month, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation released a list of bridges it was considering for its PennDOT Pathways Major Bridge Public-Private Partnership (P3) Initiative, a new transportation initiative that will help accelerate the reconstruction and rehabilitation of major bridges within the state.

Through the program, PennDOT is permitted to solicit proposals for the design, build, operation and maintenance of select bridges across the state under 20- to 30-year concession agreements. These projects would include both individual and multi-bridge packages associated with roadwork, involving what the agency calls “structures of significance based on physical size, location, and cost to replace or rehabilitate.”

One of the early findings in the PEL study found that electronic tolling of major bridges in need of replacement or rehabilitation appeared to be a viable near-term solution, which has since pushed PennDOT to pursue the Major Bridge P3 Initiative.

In breaking down how these projects would be paid for, the Department reported that electronic tolling would be implemented on the completed structures, with any excess revenue applied to other road and bridge projects.

The program also plans to aid PennDOT in achieving the following goals:

  • Accelerate the renewal of major bridges to ensure public safety;
  • Avoid time and financial impacts of travel diversion resulting from bridge restrictions and closures due to bridge condition;
  • Help offset gas tax revenue losses, as identified by the state Transportation Advisory;
  • Committee (TAC) and exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic;
  • Ensure users (including out-of-state traffic) contribute fairly to the replacement or rehabilitation of the bridges based on usage; and
  • Create a sustainable funding model for the state’s major bridges.

In addition, the initiative aims to provide travelers, residents and businesses with high-quality transportation infrastructure by studying and implementing alternative funding solutions that could address near- and long-term highway and bridge needs.

P3 Next Steps, Private-Sector Opportunities

According to PennDOT, the bridges selected for the program were based on both the feasibility of construction beginning in two to four years to maximize near-term benefits, as well as the intention that their locations are geographically balanced to avoid impact to just one region.

The projects being considered include:

  • I-78 Lenhartsville Bridge Replacement Project (Berks County);
  • I-79 Widening, Bridges and Bridgeville Interchange Reconfiguration (Allegheny County);
  • I-80 Canoe Creek Bridges (Clarion County);
  • I-80 Nescopeck Creek Bridges (Luzerne County);
  • I-80 North Fork Bridges Project (Jefferson County);
  • I-80 Over Lehigh River Bridge Project (Luzerne and Carbon counties);
  • I-81 Susquehanna Project (Susquehanna County);
  • I-83 South Bridge Project (Dauphin County); and
  • I-95 Girard Point Bridge Improvement Project (Philadelphia County).

Over the next year, PennDOT will evaluate these candidate bridges through individual environmental documents being prepared or re-evaluated for each structure.

A public involvement process for the projects is slated to begin this spring, with each bridge's project scope, surrounding roadway network, and traffic flow currently being evaluated for inclusion in one or more project bundles.

The Department further noted that it was analyzing potential structures for project bundles to ensure fair, competitive, and local participation in the P3 procurement to replace these bridges and anticipated issuing a Request for Information to industry partners by the end of February, and a Request for Qualifications expected by the spring.

Infrastructure Halts, Gas Taxes

About PennDOT’s projects in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department announced in March that it and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission would be ceasing work on all its projects at the time for a minimum of two weeks.

The pause in construction followed state Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision to extend the shutdown of all non-essential businesses to all of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.

In addition to halting construction, the Department also closed all district offices, motorist licensing offices and welcome centers. However, the Turnpike and PennDOT continued to provide emergency repair maintenance as needed.

The following month, Wolf announced a three-phase gradual reopening plan of the state’s economy which included the reopening of construction, auto sales, and retail stores, provided they practice social distancing and follow other COVID-19 mitigation measures.

However, while the state’s economy reopened sometime in June, PennDOT officials began grappling with the issue of how the state would pay for projects. At a May state Senate hearing, Acting Secretary Yassmin Gramian said that a revenue loss of $900 million was projected, largely attributed to the pandemic causing Pennsylvanians to drive less.

The reduced driving throughout the state shutdown has drastically cut the gasoline tax revenue, which is what PennDOT primarily uses for projects that include maintenance. Because of this, Gramian said that only 33 of 96 contracts that PennDOT had received bids for (worth $380 million) had funding. The rest were being reevaluated. She also said that the agency would shift maintenance projects from resurfacing to tar-and-chipping wherever possible.

In addition to PennDOT’s gas tax revenue, Turnpike CEO Mark Compton also said that the light traffic had resulted in a projected loss of $500 million in toll revenue, prompting the Turnpike to cut its capital budget for the fiscal year that began in June from $606 million to $459 million.

PennDOT reported at the time that 74% of highway and bridge funding was generated through the gas taxes, but fuel consumption was progressively decreasing. Gramian added that PennDOT was projected to spend $2.2 billion in 2020 on roads and bridges, but that expectation was decreased to about $1.8 billion.

PennDOT spokesperson Alexis Campbell also confirmed that road and bridges projects that were already underway would continue, however, in July, PennDOT announced that it had since withdrawn advertisements for bids on at least 19 projects.

Officials hesitated to speak on which big projects would be delayed as they hoped to get money from a national infrastructure program, which could come with its own strings attached.

In August, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association found through a review of publicly available data on transportation revenue and construction programs from states and local governments that $9.6 billion worth of projects had been delayed or canceled.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Bridges; Bridges; Department of Transportation (DOT); EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Funding; Government contracts; Latin America; North America; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Rehabilitation/Repair; Upcoming projects; Z-Continents

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