After more than eight years of limited funding, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission will have $1.7 billion available for regional roads and bridges over the next two years due to increased federal funding, the most since 2015-16.
At a public hearing Wednesday on how to spend the funds in Allegheny County, Dom D’Andrea, SPC’s director of transportation, outlined the expected financing. Overall, including funds for public transit and alternative projects such as trails, the agency expects to have $3.1 billion to allocate over the next two years.
Under federal regulations, the regional planning group sets transportation spending priorities for the 10-county region. It oversees a 25-year long-range plan and a series of four-year plans that must be updated every two years, and hearings are underway to develop the two-year plan that will be adopted next June.
D’Andrea said the region expects a funding increase of about 7% over the next two years, mostly federal funds from the Biden administration’s infrastructure program. That will return funding to the level of 2015-16, which D’Andrea said is a positive step but noted that inflation has eaten up much of the benefits from the increase.
In addition to flat federal funding in recent years, the state Department of Transportation decided in 2021 to shift $3.15 billion through 2028 from local roads across the state to interstate highways. Officials said they feared federal officials might pull federal funding if they didn’t make a special effort to improve conditions on the interstates.
The additional stimulus funds this year will help to replace that money.
For the new plan, about 43% of the funds will be earmarked for bridges and 23% for roads. D’Andrea said the region has cut the number of bridges in poor condition in half over the past 15 years, but they still account for about 10% of all bridges and another 62% are considered fair.
“Yes, we keep investing in bridges,” he said. “We have cut our poor bridges in half, but there’s more to do …. We’re still attacking the bridge issue.”
The Transportation Improvement Program also will include about $1.4 billion for transit and other programs. Ryan Gordon, SPC’s transportation manager, said the allocation of funds for other programs will be presented to the board for approval next month.
Those programs include congestion management and air quality, transportation alternatives such as bike lanes and trails, and a new carbon reduction program.
Wednesday’s hearing was one of a series that will be held in each county and Pittsburgh as the agency develops the priorities for the region. It will present a proposed spending plan in May and hold another series of hearings before the board votes on the plan in June.
Even once the plan is adopted, the agency will hold monthly meetings to make adjustments as some additional projects are ready for construction and others are slower to develop.
“It’s really a living, breathing document that changes all the time,” D’Andrea said.
The commission covers Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Washington, Westmoreland counties and Pittsburgh.