Centre looks at $7M of road improvements

By EMMA GOSALVEZ, egosalvez@lockhaven.com

BELLEFONTE — Over the next five years in Centre County, at least $7 million could be invested into local infrastructure projects and at least 105 additional jobs could be created and/or retained.

Yesterday, county transportation planner Mike Bloom presented the first draft of proposal for the funding of local transportation-related programs.

A key benefactor for the projects is the new $5 vehicle registration fee that will be enacted Oct. 1. Passed by the Centre County Board of Commissioners on May 9, the fee will leverage state and federal funds, Bloom said.

The new fee will help diminish an annual funding gap of such projects that are aided by the county liquid fuels program, which assists annually with between $180,000 and $200,000 worth of funding for local transportation-related projects. According to Bloom, the average annual funding gap between project requests and what the county is able to fund is approximately $735,006 and the estimated annual funding from the new fee is approximately $500,000.

Since 1988, the county has been able to award almost $6 million for local transportation-related projects, thanks to the liquid fuels program. The funding is spread across the county’s municipalities, based upon need, Bloom explained.

In the proposal, the existing liquid fuels program will be enhanced in the county.

Enhancements to the program include modernized, and possibly electronic, updates to the program application, the inclusion of safety as part of project criteria, and the formalization of staff responsibilities, which includes more of a technical review and providing more formalized recommendations to the commissioners.

Another way the county receives funding help with its structurally deficient bridges is through the Act 13 “At Risk Local Bridge” program. Each year, Bloom said that the county receives approximately $200,000 from the program.

The launch of a 2017-2022 Local Bridge Improvement Program is an important piece of the picture.

“There is a need out there in the local system for improving overall local bridge conditions,” Boom said. “Currently, we have 13 structurally deficient bridges on the local system and eighteen of what I call ‘borderline bridges;’ those are the ones that are nearing that designation of structurally deficient.”

With the new $5 fee the county will collect, Bloom said that repairs can take place on these other bridges that are starting to show wear and tear and are considered high priority but have not yet reached the point of becoming ‘structurally deficient.’

Repairing these bridges sooner rather than later will save the county a lot of money, he said.

“Unfortunately, with these types of structures, once they deteriorate, they start going downhill and if you don’t catch them, they continue down that hill pretty quick.”

Leveraging the $5 fee to receive additional funding is key.

By passing the fee, Bloom said the county became eligible for an additional $2 million in bridge funding through PennDOT’s Road Maintenance and Preservation (MaP) program. He added that the county will have to match the funding dollar for dollar.

The Local Bridge Improvement Program is projected to have a significant economic impact on the county.

According to projections from IMPLAN, a local economic impact measurement software, the county could be looking at a total job creation/retainment of between 105 to 119 jobs. Bloom said that the projection for the county programs’ investment of $5 million, between 75 and 85 jobs would be created/retained. With the $2 million RoadMaP investment, between 30 and 34 jobs would be created/retained.

“And that’s just with the local money,” Higgins added. “We don’t know if we’re going to be guaranteed other match money at the state and federal level. It could actually be more jobs.”

The commissioners will review and provide comments on the proposal for further consideration at their Tuesday, Aug. 1 meeting.

In other business, the commissioners authorized a one-time nonrefundable $100 application fee for the submission of a Department of Community and Economic Development Multimodal Transportation grant, along with the submittal of a letter of funding commitment. The grant will be used for a local bridge bundle project that addresses three structurally deficient bridges in the county: the Lower Coleville Road bridge in Spring Township, the Front Street bridge in Curtin Township and the Fox Gap Road bridge in Miles Township.

The approximately $1.2 million grant would be matched by roughly $500,000 from the county’s local Act 13 bridge funds, Bloom said at the July 11 meeting.

Bloom said the application is due next Monday and the county’s goal is to submit the application by the end of the week.