Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, at podium, speaks with members of the media in Philadelphia on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, to promote a new infrastructure law and a bridge repair funding program. Content Exchange

(The Center Square) – U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf gathered with state and local officials in front of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive Bridge in Philadelphia on Friday to announce federal funding for bridge repairs.

Pennsylvania will receive $1.6 billion to fix more than 3,000 bridges in the commonwealth as part of the nation’s largest investment in bridges; $26.5 billion to states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico over the next five years, as well as $825 million for tribal transportation facilities.

“This is a historic investment for Pennsylvania, and for our nation,” Wolf said as he heaped praise on the Biden administration for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. “Strong infrastructure is critical to the quality of life for all Pennsylvanians, especially strong, safe bridges. Bridges are the lifelines that connect our communities to one another, while modern, reliable infrastructure is essential for Pennsylvania-based businesses to expand.”

Buttigieg pointed to the temporary closure of the MLK bridge as an illustration of needed repairs in Pennsylvania, which include more than 80 bridges in need in Philadelphia alone. He described observing nets under bridges in Pittsburgh to catch falling concrete during tours of the city and explained how improvements will help save on shipping costs, fuel, vehicle maintenance, time and make the structures “more resilient against extreme weather.”

“We’re going to improve the conditions of our bridges that are closed or weight limited so they’re reopened at full capacity,” Buttigieg said. “The funding can also be used to make bridges more accessible for people who walk and bike.”

Wolf said the federal funding will go toward repairing 3,353 Pennsylvania bridges rated in poor condition and stressed the impact the improvements will have on the daily lives of residents in the commonwealth.

“We have a lot of work to do in Pennsylvania,” he said. “It’s stuff like this that really matters.”

Pennsylvania Secretary of Transporation Yassmin Gramian said Pennsylvania has about 200 bridges that move into the “poor” condition category every year, and despite the influx of federal money over the next five years, the state will continue to pursue other funding to repair the aging structures.

Gramian said that will include a plan by the Wolf administration to toll nine bridges throughout the commonwealth to help cover the costs.

“We have a funding gap of $8.1 billion on an annual basis,” she said. “We still have a huge need.”

Pennsylvania is set to receive $327 million for bridge work in the first year of the five-year program, money on top of $4 billion allocated to the state for roads. Pennsylvania is one of only seven states set to receive more than $1 billion through the federal Bridge Formula Program, which awarded the most to California at $4.2 billion, according to the Federal Highway Administration website.

Pennsylvania is listed second nationally for the most bridges in poor condition, behind only Iowa with 4,571 in that category. Nationwide, the program is expected to help repair about 15,000 of the nation’s 45,023 bridges in poor condition, federal data showed.

States are set to receive a total of $5.3 billion, with another $165 million going to tribes, during the first year of the program, which also covers “off-system” bridges, or bridges owned by counties, cities, towns or other local agencies that do not fall under the federal-aid highway system.

“While states normally must match federal funding with up to 20% state or local funding, the guidance issued today notes that federal funds can be used for 100% of the cost of repairing or rehabilitating such locally owned off-system bridges,” according to a Wolf press release.

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the state is waiting on regional planning organizations before announcing which bridges will receive federal funding.

“As far as specific bridges, we’re not at that point yet,” PennDOT spokesperson Alexis Campbell said. “We’re doing the 2023 update (to the state bridge program) now. We will put the money to good use, for sure.”

Buttigieg said federal bridge funding will be available starting next week.

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