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Bridging a funding gap in Dauphin CountyCounty targets municipal bridge replacements with new program

By , - Last modified: April 26, 2018 at 9:21 AM
The Duke Street bridge near Hummelstown was the last remaining structurally deficient bridge owned by Dauphin County until it was replaced last year.
The Duke Street bridge near Hummelstown was the last remaining structurally deficient bridge owned by Dauphin County until it was replaced last year. - (Photo / )

After creating the first county infrastructure bank in Pennsylvania, Dauphin County is in front again on a new way to pay for replacing old bridges at a potentially lower cost for municipalities.

Dauphin County, which last year replaced the last of its structurally deficient bridges, has launched a program aimed at helping municipalities in the county replace their old bridges.

Using a mix of state and federal dollars, as well as money collected from a $5 vehicle registration fee, the county commissioners are hoping to replace 12 structurally deficient municipal bridges and repair nine other county-owned bridges by 2021, at an estimated overall cost of roughly $30.4 million. The goal is to have no structurally deficient bridges in the county.

Dauphin County owns 51 bridges. Municipalities across the county own another 67 bridges.

Under the new initiative, known as a bridge bundling program, municipalities would be responsible for about 40 percent of the bridge replacement cost. The county would cover the remaining 60 percent.

Brian Emberg, senior vice president and chief technical officer with Swatara Township-based Herbert Rowland & Grubic Inc., the county's engineer, said municipalities that agree to participate in the program could finance their share of the costs through the county's infrastructure bank at interest rates expected to be less than 1 percent.

The goal is to significantly reduce municipal borrowing costs for projects that will need to be done anyway, Emberg said.

"They are not going to get a better deal," he told county commissioners during a meeting Wednesday. "Dauphin County has its house in order and is now in a position to help local governments."

The county infrastructure bank was set up using funds from the county's annual allocation under the state's gas tax. The allocation, known as liquid fuels money, is based on a municipality’s population and miles of locally owned roads.

The county used about $1 million in liquid fuels money in 2013 to start the infrastructure bank, which offers low-interest revolving loans. Municipalities or private companies apply for loans that can be used only for transportation-related projects. As recipients repay the loans, the money is returned to the bank to fund future projects.

The county's seed money allowed it to access up to $30 million in state money from PennDOT's Pennsylvania Infrastructure Bank, which allows the county infrastructure bank to keep its interest rates low.

Commissioner Jeff Haste called the bundling program a "turnkey" way for municipalities in the county to replace crumbling bridges.

Emberg compared the county initiative to the state Department of Transportation's Rapid Bridge Replacement Project, a public-private partnership, or P3, under which nearly $900 million is being spent over three years to replace 558 structurally deficient bridges statewide.

By packaging the local bridge repairs and replacement work together, the county believes the construction costs will be lower than they would be in bidding projects separately. Bundling also can expedite the timeline for the work.

The $5 vehicle registration fee was authorized under the Act 89 transportation funding bill. It is generating more than $1 million per year in Dauphin County, Emberg said. PennDOT is providing an additional $2 million grant to counties that have the registration fee in place and a plan for how to bundle bridge repairs.

Dauphin County is looking to start construction on county-owned bridges by June 2019 and complete repairs by 2020. That work is estimated at $10.4 million.

The municipal bridge replacements could start by 2020 and be completed in 2021, Emberg said. The cost has been estimated at $20 million.

Once the bundling work is done, Emberg said the focus will shift from replacement to maintenance of county and locally owned bridges. He hopes other counties will be able to implement similar programs as they wrap up work on county-owned bridges.

Project list

Dauphin County officials still need to meet with municipal officials to discuss identified projects and sign agreements to bring municipalities on board. That work is expected to occur over the next few months.

Here is the list of proposed replacement projects:

• Edward Street Bridge over Rattling Creek, Lykens. Estimated cost: $2 million.
• Two Mullberry Street Bridge sections over Paxton Creek, Harrisburg. Estimated total cost: $1.23 million.
• Walnut Street Bridge over Jonestown Road, Harrisburg. Estimated cost: $581,000.
• 13th Street Bridge over railroad tracks, Harrisburg. Estimated cost: $4.64 million.
• Market Street over Paxton Creek, Harrisburg. Estimated cost: $3.13 million.
• Under State Street over Paxton Creek, Harrisburg. Estimated cost: $3.61 million.
• Rummel Road Bridge over Powell Creek, Wayne Township. Estimated cost: $912,000.
• Bastian Road over Armstrong Creek, Jackson Township. Estimated cost: $825,000.
• Mcintosh Road over tributary to Paxton Creek, Lower Paxton Township. Estimated cost: $825,000.
• Lauffer Road over Iron Run, Londonderry Township. Estimated cost: $1.09 million.
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• Camp Kiwanis T over Manada Creek, East Hanover Township. Estimated cost: $1.3 million

Here is the list of county-owned bridges that need repairs:

• Carsonville Road over North Fork Powell Creek, Jefferson Township. Estimated cost: $445,000.
• Swatara Creek Road over Iron Run, Londonderry Township. Estimated cost: $673,000.
• Oakshire Road over Beaver Creek, South Hanover Township. Estimated cost: $811,000.
• Machamer Avenue over Wiconisco Creek, Wiconisco Township. Estimated cost: $873,000.
• Fiddlers Elbow Road over Swatara Creek, Derry Township. Estimated cost: $3.79 million.
• Camp Hebron Road over Powell Creek, Halifax Township. Estimated cost: $1.03 million.
• Konick Road over Powell Creek, Halifax Township. Estimated cost: $777,000.
• Orange Street over Wiconisco Creek, Williams Township. Estimated cost: $984,000.
• Engle Road over Conewago Creek, Londonderry Township. Estimated cost: $1.04 million.

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Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin and Cumberland counties. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jscott@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal.

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