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Repairing Pennsylvania's Aging Bridges

Hundreds of bridges across the commonwealth are in desperate need of repair or replacement. Many of them are in Allegheny County. Since Pennsylvania is home to some of the oldest infrastructure in the country, a public-private partnership is working to replace a number of these bridges.

Dan Galvin, public information manager for Plenary Walsh Keystone Partners describes how a team of investors, civil contractors, and construction companies joined together to bid on a requisition for proposals from PENNDOT to replace over 500 bridges within the next three years.

“We’re bringing some new money to the table, and the state of Pennsylvania is essentially buying a mortgage on the next 25 years of these 558 bridges that we’ll replace,” Galvin explains.

Plenary Walsh Keystone Partners bid $899 million dollars to plan and complete the project.  Over the duration of the 25 year contract, the state will make payments to the tune of $65 million a year, assuming certain construction milestones are met.  Galvin says a reconstruction project of this size is this first of its kind taking place in the nation.

“For some reason, it really hasn’t caught on in the United States yet, but we may see that changing because of the lack of available funds through normal sources,” Galvin explains.

The average construction period for each of these bridges is an estimated 10 weeks, based on the bridge’s size.  Galvin says each bridge will be coated with a polyester concrete material, allowing them to last another 100 years, assuming they are well-maintained.

Although Galvin describes these bridges as the “worst of the worst”, repair work for many of these spans has been overlooked because they aren’t heavily trafficked.

“These are the bridges that PENNDOT needed to be replaced the fastest, so that’s why they put them in this package to put them out for us.”

The average construction year of these bridges is 1935, with some dating back to the late 1800s.  Galvin credits the longevity of these bridges to good old-fashioned design and construction.

Still, with advancements in construction technology, modern tools have made building and reconstructing more efficient.

“Anytime you’re dealing with computer aided design and drafting, you learn shortcuts, you learn ways to use materials that are much more sturdy than they were in the past.”  

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