Almost 20 percent of the bridges in Cambria, Bedford and Somerset counties are structurally deficient.
Counting everything from large structures that cross rivers to some barely noticeable 8-foot culverts, there are 1,532 bridges throughout the area, including those on both state and local routes. As of Dec. 31, 299 of them were considered structurally deficient.
There are thousands of other bridges in need of repair across the commonwealth.
Paying for the work can be financially challenging for state, county and municipal governments.
In order to assist, the state Department of Transportation recently announced a public-private Rapid Bridge Replacement Project. The initiative would allow bridges of similar design to be replaced under the same contract, which should streamline design and construction.
Five groups – Plenary Walsh Keystone Partners, Keystone Bridge Partners, Commonwealth Bridge Partners, Keystone Bridge Builders and Pennsylvania Crossings – have submitted statements of qualification, hoping to become eligible to participate in the project.
“I’m pleased to see that private industry is coming forward to partner with us on this effort to keep our bridges open and safe,” said PennDOT Secretary Barry J. Schoch in a statement.
Along with more than 1,200 bridges in the three counties, the state maintains 914 miles of highway in Somerset, 837 miles in Bedford and 741 in Cambria.
“There are many aspects of the work we do on our network, everything from snow removal to paving, bridge rehabilitations or replacements to pothole patching or even just sweeping after the winter,” said Tara M. Callahan-Henry, press officer for PennDOT Engineering District 9. “We need to keep up with our network and keep it in good condition to help move goods and services across the area.”
The state also allocates funds to improve roadways through its Municipal Liquid Fuels Program, basing its distribution on a municipality’s population and miles of roads on its approved Liquid Fuels Inventory.
The money, which comes from a tax on liquid fuels, must be used for construction, reconstruction, maintenance and repair of public roads or streets that meet certain size and condition specifications.
“(The tax money) basically comes back to the community to help support the roadway systems,” said Cambria County Commissioner Mark Wissinger.
The city of Johnstown has $452,000 budgeted for its liquid fuels fund in 2014.
Cambria County will have $533,600 in liquid fuels money this year to disperse to boroughs and townships. The commissioners do not dictate what those municipalities should do with their funds, so long as the projects meet the state requirements.
“We’d rather let the local folks set their projects,” said Cambria County President Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder.
The county also operates a mass transit system, called CamTran.
Approximately 1.2 million passengers ride CamTran vehicles per year. Its fleet includes 31 buses in the urban Johnstown area, along with 40 smaller vehicles for rural regions.
“It provides cost-efficient, reliable, safe transportation for the entire county,” said CamTran board Chairman Ed Cernic Jr.
Cambria County Transit Authority Executive Director Rose Lucey-Noll added, “I think that we’re very integrated into the community.”
Moving into the future, the transit authority plans to introduce buses that run on compressed natural gas into its fleet over the next few years. The first CNG bus is expected to arrive within 15 to 18 months.
CamTran is also in the process of building a state-of-the-art, 82,000-square-foot, $18 million headquarters/garage in Johnstown’s Woodvale neighborhood.
Additionally, the authority operates the transit center in downtown Johnstown, which is located only a few miles from two other transportation hubs: the Johnstown train station and the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport in Richland Township.
Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Dave_Sutor.