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Pittsburgh-area lawmaker wants to increase state forest drilling for bridge funding

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A Republican state lawmaker from western Pennsylvania has announced legislation to open additional state forest land to gas exploration in order to help fix bridges in the commonwealth.

Last week, the state Department of Transportation said Secretary Barry Schoch authorized either adding or increasing weight restrictions on about 1,000 structurally deficient bridges “because of legislative inaction” on transportation funding this summer.

State Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Allegheny and Washington counties, said taxpayers aren’t an endless source of money and the state needs to find alternative funding sources.

Specifically, his proposal would call for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to take bids for natural-gas-exploration leases on 300,000 acres of available state forest land over the next three years, according to a news release.

It would raise $1.05 billion in the first three years in addition to royalty fees on all the marketable gas produced by successful wells, the release stated.

“We certainly cannot allow these bridges in need of repair to go neglected,” Saccone said in a statement. “But let’s not needlessly saddle taxpayers when we have an enormous natural resource in Marcellus shale available to us that is waiting to be tapped.”

The bridge postings could begin as early as Thursday, PennDOT said as part of its announcement. The commonwealth leads the nation for structurally deficient bridges with nearly 4,500, according to the agency.


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