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Pennsylvania will get $1.6 billion in extra federal funding over the next five years to fix more than 3,000 bridges across the commonwealth.
The funding comes from $26.5 billion in funds for distressed bridges authorized under the recent infrastructure law. The law will also waive the requirement that states and local governments provide matching funds, President Joe Biden said in a video message last week.
The federal largess represents the largest spending on bridges since the Interstate Highway System was created, Biden added. More than 45,000 bridges across the country are in poor condition, according to the U.S. Transportation Department.
Pennsylvania in particular has struggled to keep up with maintenance costs. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation says it routinely runs a multi-billion dollar deficit between repair needs and yearly gas tax revenue as it manages tens of thousands of miles of state owned roadways, along with maintaining the state’s interstates.
“Strong infrastructure is critical to the quality of life for all Pennsylvanians, especially strong, safe bridges,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement. “Bridges are the lifelines that connect our communities to one another, while modern, reliable infrastructure is essential for Pennsylvania-based businesses to expand.”
PennDOT secretary Yassmin Gramian added at a press conference in Philadelphia last week that many of the federal dollars will focus on bridges on small roads on local routes, rather than replacing highway bridges.
At that same news conference, Wolf told reporters that that the funding would not change the state’s plans to replace nine bridges on interstate highways and pay for them with new tolls.
The $2 billion tolling plan was authorized by a state board in 2020, and has sparked pushback from impacted communities and state lawmakers.
But Wolf pointed out that even with the new federal dollars, the state’s funding needs were vast.
“I think the secretary and I, our preference would be for contractors to give us bridges and roads for free,” Wolf said. “We have not found anyone willing to do that.”
Pennsylvania has among the highest gas taxes in the country, but billions in those dollars have been siphoned off to pay for the State Police rather than fix roads and bridges.
State public transportation agencies are also set to lose $350 million in Turnpike toll transfers this year.
Lawmakers have long suggested that they will tackle the issue, but efforts to reform the state’s funding mechanisms have not yet borne fruit.
All told, Pennsylvania is expected to receive at least $6.2 billion in new federal funding from the infrastructure bill, according to an estimate prepared by Democratic staff on the House Appropriations Committee.
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