PennDOT awards three-year, $899 million contract to take care of bridges
By Jan Murphy
Pennsylvania is awarding a $899 million contract to Plenary Walsh Keystone Partners to design, replace and maintain 558 bridges around the state for the next 25 years.
The contract – the biggest ever awarded by PennDOT – uses a public-private partnership (P3) approach to tackling the state's problem with an abundance of structurally deficient bridges. It keeps the bridges under state ownership but transfers the responsibility for their design, construction and 25-year upkeep to this private sector team.
Department of Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch said going the P3 route will save taxpayers 30 percent on the cost of bridge replacements and cut the timeframe down to about a quarter of the 10 to 12 years it would have otherwise taken the department to replace all 558 bridges.
One of the bridges on the replacement list is the Spanglers Mill Road bridge over the Yellow Breeches Creek in Lower Allen Twp. that provided the backdrop for the news conference where the winner of the competition for this contract was publicly announced on Friday.
"While we are working on the rest of our traditional program [to repair and replace roads and bridges], we're knocking down that problem of structurally deficient bridges that is inhibiting commerce and free movement of trucks and other weight-restricted vehicles through the commonwealth," Schoch said."So today is a big day."
Once a bridge is replaced, the contract is designed to make Plenary Walsh responsible for its maintenance for the next 25 years. Department officials said that should inspire the contractor to use some creativity to design bridges so that they carry a low-enough maintenance cost for the first quarter of its life to make a decent profit. After that, the state takes over the bridge's maintenance.
Four teams competed for this bridge program contract.
But Bryan Kendro, director of the department's Public Private Partnership Office, said Plenary Walsh's commitment to replace the bridges in eight months sooner than was required coupled with its pricing and dozens of other elements such as traffic management plans and quality control plans made its proposal superior to the others.
Matthew Walsh, chairman of The Walsh Group of Chicago, Ill., the lead contractor, said the group's plan is to subcontract with companies from a community where a bridge exists "to make the workforce in each community look like the people who live in that community." He said 11 Pennsylvania subcontractors is part of the team.
The P3 team – comprising Walsh; Plenary Group, a large international infrastructure investor with American offices in Los Angeles and Denver; Granite Construction Company of Watsonville, Calif.; and HDR Engineering of Omaha, Neb. – will start this program by tackling 58 bridges next year. Kendro said those 58 are concentrated in the northeastern and southwestern corners of the state.
PennDOT pre-selected the structurally deficient bridges to be replaced through this contract – which include 96 in southcentral Pennsylvania – based on their condition, structure and the low-level of environmental issues associated with their replacement.
To find the location of the bridges around the state that met this criteria to be replaced through this contract, click on the "map of final bridges" on this webpage on the department's website.
The contract limits how long a bridge can be closed to traffic during the replacement process. Single-span bridges can be closed no more than 60 days and multi-span bridges, 110 days.
"One of the things we put in the contract in working with the districts is there are certain bridges that can't be detoured during the school year so the period in which [the contractor] can get in and get out falls in the summer," Kendro said. "So we know if a bridge is important to school routes we made a point of when they have to go and do that."
The contract is designed so the contractor is only paid when a bridge replacement is complete, so there are some financial consequences if it doesn't get the work done on time, he said.
Schoch made clear it was the passage of two laws made this aggressive approach to bridge replacement program possible – the 2012 public-private partnerships law and the 2013 transportation funding law that is expected to generate $2.6 billion annually to address the state's transportation needs.
This contract's annual average cost of $65 million will consume 2.5 percent of the department's $2.6 billion annual investment in road and bridge projects. Kendro said that leaves millions still available for projects to be done using the department's traditional design, bid and build to which contractors are accustomed.
"I look forward to the work being done by this team and I look forward to the excitement I think for the traveling public and for the business community at seeing the speed at which they're going to get in and get out as they work through these bridges," Schoch said.
For the story and photos, click HERE.