Road to recovery
Bucks County Commission Vice Chairman Robert Loughery discussed bridge revitalization project at TMA Bucks breakfast
By Samantha Bambino
If you’re a Bucks County resident who has renewed a car registration in the past year, you’ve probably noticed a $5 fee tacked onto the bill. Most likely, this realization caused some annoyance and confusion, which is why officials wanted to set the record straight. On Nov. 14, a breakfast was hosted by Transportation Management Association Bucks at Parx Casino with guest speaker Bucks County Commission Vice Chairman Robert Loughery, who spoke in detail about projects the money is being put toward.
The breakfast took place in the third floor clubhouse of Parx East. Community members, TMA representatives and government officials, including TMA founding president Mayor Joe DiGirolamo, enjoyed sausages, bagels and more as Loughery took the microphone.
After praising the event for being one of the “most tweeted in Bucks County,” he addressed the core initiative that money from the $5 registration fee is being put toward — bridges.
There are 114 bridges in Bucks County, most in rural areas. For years, he explained how the county has been playing a catch-up game based on PennDot’s biannual ranking system. Bridges are ranked from zero to 10, with zero meaning the structure is barely fit for use. Each year, he said the county was spending $2-$3 million on bridge construction, but still wasn’t on top of the issue. Basically, they were working fruitlessly to keep bridges ranked as ones from becoming zeros.
Loughery said there were two options. The county could keep increasing the budget to pay for these low-ranked bridges, or move in a different direction. In 2014, the Bridge Department was created, whose sole purpose was the maintenance and construction of Bucks County bridges.
“We created more of a strategic, aggressive plan rather than a reactive one,” he said.
With this specialized team in place, in December 2015, the county decided it was time to implement the state’s Transportation Bill (Act 89), which had been passed two years prior. The bill included the $5 registration fee, which Loughery said would bring in at least $2 million in revenue each year to the county.
Now, with this large amount of extra funding, Loughery explained how the county can tackle the bridges ranked as threes and fours in addition to the ones and zeros. These have fewer infrastructure issues and a much quicker turnaround time for construction.
Take, for example, the Walnut Street Bridge in Perkasie. Plans for improvement began 14 years ago and are finally underway. Within three to four years, Loughery believes bridges that haven’t been touched in 20 years will be completed, and he’ll immediately be able to look at the next set of five.
On Nov. 6, a ribbon cutting ceremony was held in Quakertown to celebrate the first completed bridge. Ten more are under construction including Stone Bridge Road Bedminster Township, Mill Creek Road Falls Township, Frosty Hollow Road Middletown Township, Old Jacksonville Road Northampton Township and Valley Park Road East Rockhill Township.
Though most of these bridges are tucked away, far from main roads, they’re vital for residents to conveniently get from point A to B, and especially for EMS and emergency personnel when they need to quickly respond to an emergency. It’s not an option for them to be under construction for years, nor can they be left as is. He reflected on one local who brought him a large chunk of bridge that had fallen off.
Loughery admitted his office received a number of angry calls when the $5 fee was implemented. While he understands residents’ frustration, he explained the impact in the long run. With this extra money, the county will no longer need to borrow from its operating budget, and those funds can be put toward other projects.
As Loughery and the Bridge Department continue to strategize and improve the county’s infrastructure, he’s seeking help at the national level as well. Recently, he was one of 30 elected officials to attend a summit at the White House.
During two breakout sessions with Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, Loughery was able to put a number of issues on their radar. He explained the importance of maintaining I-95 and Pennsylvania Turnpike with their proximity to Bucks County’s port, which Chao was unaware existed. He also discussed the cons of the permitting process and helped brainstorm ways it could be altered. Right now, he said it could take anywhere from 18 months to three years to get a project done due to permits, and three to 11 years if the project requires federal money.
“Save money, save time,” he said.
For more information on TMA Bucks, visit tmabucks.com. ••
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com