The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

March 25, 2013

Winter takes toll on PennDOT’s project funds

Kathy Mellott

EBENSBURG — Those in the Cambria-Somerset region weary of the long, hard winter ought to spend a little time with officials of PennDOT’s District 9.

Each time snow falls or rain turns to ice, the cost of winter 2012-2013 increases in the form of overtime and additional road salt and chemicals, District Executive Thomas Prestash said.

“It’s really eating up our revenues and the money we have for shelf projects,” Prestash said Monday during PennDOT’s annual outreach to municipal officials, legislators, planning and economic development agencies, and community leaders.

Shelf projects are needs that are set aside in the hope that some money can be found to address them, he said.

“Winter maintenance is eating up the money we set aside,” Prestash said.

The outreach sessions, now in their 15th year, were held in Somerset and Ebensburg.

With the significant snowfall Monday, winter maintenance costs continued to climb, said Dennis Mehora, head of Cambria County PennDOT maintenance.

The blast of winter storms has taken a toll on Mehora’s budget – and those of every other region in the six-county district making up District 9, officials said.

The bottom line, they agreed, is that there will be less money available for summer highway resurfacing and bridge repairs. How much less has yet to be determined.

“I can’t say; winter’s not over yet,” Mehora said.

The spate of storms could not have come at a worse time. Revenues coming into state coffers for highway and bridge projects are declining and the costs of materials are skyrocketing, Prestash said.

The amount of money available for PennDOT’s long-term maintenance projects is significantly reduced. For District 9, that means funds for highways and bridges may drop from the $179 million available in 2009 to less than $100 million.

Increased revenue is needed now more than ever, especially with the five-year emphasis placed on bridge repairs, Prestash said. PennDOT is looking at ways to make operations more efficient with the aim of stretching dollars as far as possible, he said.

“We have to live within our means,” he said. “We look at every penny.”

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