PennDOT chief says bridge limits ahead
HARRISBURG – Another 1,000 bridges in Pennsylvania will be slapped with additional weight restrictions as a consequence of declining funding for repairs and the Legislature’s failure to approve higher gas taxes and motorist fees since the 1990s, the state’s top transportation official warned senators Wednesday.
The move being considered by Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch could increase the number of weight-restricted bridges about 50 percent in the coming months, with the first new restrictions appearing as early as this month.
Schoch told the Senate Transportation Committee that the policy is particularly necessary given the rising costs to pay for the state police and stronger fuel efficiency standards that are eating away at revenue from motor vehicle fuel taxes.
The restrictions will slow deterioration of the bridges and allow PennDOT to spend money on other needs, he said.
“There is no choice at this point but to do so,” Schoch said.
Schoch said the new weight restrictions will potentially mean longer routes and commutes for haulers, school buses and emergency vehicles. He also said he worried about having to face the families of victims should a bridge collapse.
State ends computer contract with IBM
HARRISBURG – Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration is ending a multiyear contract with IBM to modernize Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation computer system after dedicating $153 million in federal money to the project.
The 7-year-old project is 42 months behind schedule and $60 million over budget, State Labor and Industry Secretary Julia Hearthway said Wednesday.
The original contract was for $106.9 million in 2006, and it expires in late September after no-cost extensions were allowed to assess the program. It was designed to calculate and provide unemployment compensation benefit payments in Pennsylvania.
“The bottom line is that the problems we’ve identified cannot be solved and we will not renew our contract with IBM,” Hearthway said.
Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute says it identified numerous problems with the design and implementation of the system. Its study was commissioned by the department last year.
An IBM spokesman, Scott Cook, said the company was surprised by Hearthway’s announcement and that the decision is based on “a third-party report that we have not seen.”
Closing delayed in voter ID trial
HARRISBURG – A judge on Wednesday extended the trial over Pennsylvania’s voter-identification law into a 12th day after lawyers called a truce in a behind-the-scenes battle and the state filed a motion seeking to dismiss the lawsuit.
Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley scheduled closing arguments for today.
The March 2012 law was passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature without any Democratic votes and signed by GOP Gov. Tom Corbett, but court orders have prevented it from being enforced.
Democrats charged that it was a cynical attempt in a presidential election year to discourage voting by minorities, young adults and other groups that tend to vote Democratic. Republicans said it bolsters the security of Pennsylvania’s elections, though state officials have conceded that they are not aware of any cases of voter impersonation.
Riders get stuck on Kennywood coaster
WEST MIFFLIN – Officials at Kennywood Amusement Park near Pittsburgh said a sensor issue caused a roller coaster to stop in mid-ride, but that the riders on board were rescued without incident.
It happened Tuesday afternoon on the “Phantom’s Revenge” ride. Officials said the coaster automatically stopped in the middle of the first big hill after the sensor malfunctioned.
Kennywood personnel walked the riders down a stairwell along the coaster’s lift hill, opting not to make them wait while technicians checked out the problem.
The ride was back up and running about an hour later.
UPMC settles $1M billing errors case
PITTSBURGH – The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has agreed to pay nearly $1 million to settle a case of Medicare billing errors.
The Department of Justice said in a Wednesday release that UPMC told authorities about the billing errors connected with a home health care affiliate and the case was settled without litigation. The settlement of about $956,000 ends the case.
The case concerned Medicare billings for home health care services that didn’t include a documented face-to-face encounter with a physician, as required by regulations.
UPMC spokeswoman Gloria Kreps said in an email that the company admits no liability, that the errors were in a relatively small percentage of cases, and that it ultimately complied with all Medicare rules.
Interior Dept. OKs Gettysburg expansion
HARRISBURG – The U.S. Department of the Interior has endorsed a plan to expand Gettysburg National Military Park.
U.S. Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey are sponsoring related legislation and announced the action Wednesday.
The proposal would incorporate the Lincoln Train Station in downtown Gettysburg as part of a 45-acre expansion at the southern end of the battlefield.
The train station was built in 1858. It served as a hospital during the Battle of Gettysburg and was where President Abraham Lincoln arrived on the eve of his Gettysburg Address.
PennDOT chief says bridge limits ahead
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A look at late-breaking news, coming events and stories that will be talked about in Pennsylvania on Thursday:
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