The Lead

Pa. House moves to reform bridge naming process

By: - December 14, 2021 1:17 pm

State Rep. John Lawrence, R-Chester, speaks at a Dec. 14 House hearing.

To free up time in Harrisburg for more lawmaking, the Pennsylvania General Assembly could soon change how it names bridges and roads. 

The House Transportation Committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve legislation sponsored by Rep. John Lawrence, R-Chester, that would give private citizens the ability to name roads themselves if they secure community input, collect money to replace road signs, and apply to PennDOT.

The panel’s vote comes in the middle of a year in which re-naming laws have made up the largest portion of the General Assembly’s output in the last decade, a Capital-Star analysis published last month found.

Legislators at work? One in 5 laws enacted in Pa. this year renamed a bridge (or road)

Lawrence said he had the bill idea ever since he arrived in the Legislature in 2011 when he realized “it seemed, frankly, we spent a lot of time in caucus and on the House floor talking about these road designations.”

A successful applicant must show PennDOT a petition from locals, as well as letters of support from any municipalities, and the area’s state representative and senator, Lawrence said. The Department could also still deny a request that receives all these layers of support.

The process could also not be used to name a bridge or road after a living person, someone who did not live in Pennsylvania, or a private business or nonprofit, he added.

And all of this would not prevent the General Assembly from passing a bill if they felt it necessary. 

Add in the need for a legislator’s sign off, and the role of local lawmakers is not eliminated, Lawrence said. But his bill would make it easier for citizens to name something, “and allow us in the legislature to frankly spend more time on things that are a little more weighty.”

“It’s easier to fill out a PennDOT form than to pass a law,” Lawrence added.

Laws naming bridges and roads make up one in five of the statutes passed by the General Assembly and signed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf this year, the Capital-Star found.

That percentage even increased slightly after Wolf signed seven bills into law on Nov. 17 — and one of the new laws provided for three new holidays honoring Persian Gulf War veterans. War on Terrorism veterans, and first responders.

The Republican majority pointed fingers at Wolf, who they claim is unwilling to compromise and too frequently reaches for his veto pen. Wolf and Democratic legislators blamed Republicans for misplaced priorities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, there also has been a bipartisan defense of naming legislation as a proper way to honor worthy individual’s contributions to the commonwealth or their community.

State Rep. Greg Rothman, R-Cumberland, said he agreed with Lawrence that naming bills did seem to be a large portion of their legislative work when he started. But then “one of my more senior colleagues told me, ‘it doesn’t matter until it’s your bridge.’”

Rothman voted yes in committee, but said he wanted to be sure that legislators kept some role in the process.

After approving Lawrence’s proposal, the committee then approved 13 other bills naming bridges and roads after a mix of deceased veterans, public servants, and lawmakers.

“I’m sure all these people we are memorializing … are certainly deserving,” committee Chairperson Rep. Tim Hennessey, R-Chester, said.

Rep. Mike Carroll, of Luzerne County, the panel’s ranking Democrat, agreed, but added that he looked forward to when lawmakers weren’t “burdening the process with one name after another.”

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.