‘This challenged bridge has created some problems for us in the past’
Centre County residents have been paying an annual $5 vehicle registration fee for the past two years, and the money has been allocated toward a number of local infrastructure improvement projects, such as the replacement of Railroad Street Bridge and Mill Street Bridge.
“One hundred percent of the fee for local use funding goes to road projects,” Commissioner Mark Higgins said during last week’s board meeting.
In 2017, the board voted 2-1 to enact the “fee for local use,” added on to vehicle registrations. Higgins and board Chairman Michael Pipe voted in favor of the $5 fee, and Commissioner Steve Dershem voted against the increase.
With the approval, Mike Bloom, assistant director of planning and community development, said the county was able to set aside funds to help supplement the county’s liquid fuels program — money from the state that must be used on transportation or other infrastructure projects. The additional funds helped fill a gap of more than $700,000 worth of projects the county was previously unable to fund, and helped launch Centre County’s local bridge improvement program, Bloom said.
The fee for local use generates approximately $450,000 each year, and Bloom said as of early July, $550,454 has been allocated to projects throughout the county. Bloom said the county expects to allocate additional funds this year.
In 2017, the county identified 13 bridges that were in “poor condition” or “structurally deficient,” Bloom said. An additional 18 bridges were nearing “poor condition.” With the funds set aside solely for roadway projects, Bloom said the fee for local use and liquid fuel programs funds assist in getting these projects up and running.
Mill Street Bridge and Railraod Street Bridge were designated in poor condition, both having been constructed more than 50 years ago. Mill Street Bridge was built in 1915 and Railroad Street Bridge was constructed in 1925.
The total cost of the Bellefonte and Howard bridge projects was $3.03 million. With the fee for local use funds, the county was able to allocate $400,000 to help finance construction. Additional funding came from a PennDOT Multimodal Transportation Fund Grant and from County Act 13 “At Risk Local Bridge” Funding, Bloom said.
Dershem said the high cost of replacing a “small bridge in a rural community” frustrates him, especially when their initial installation was most likely cheaper.
“We’re frustrated with those numbers too,” Bloom said, adding that different programs have specific requirements and regulations that inflate prices. “The costs are significant, and unfortunately, that’s the cost we’re seeing of doing business.”
When determining what projects to work on, Bloom said staff looks at condition and the impact on the community. The Howard and Bellefonte bridges are single-access and community members depend on their function to travel.
“We look at that community impact in addition to the overall condition of the structure,” Bloom said.
The county also evaluates bridge projects based on how many vehicles travel on the structures each day, Bloom said.
Marion, Patton, Rush and Union townships received funding from the liquid fuels program to help pay for local road projects. The program provided $150,454 in funding. Rush Township is in the process of applying for a grant for an expanded project scope estimated at $2.7 million for the base repairs and resurfacing of T-958 Casanova Road.
Bloom said he will continue to update county officials on future allocations and projects under the fee for local use fund and liquid fuels program.
The $5 fee for local use has a sunset clause, which will require the 2022 board of commissioners to vote on continuing the fee.