In a partial thaw in Pennsylvania’s statewide freeze on construction projects, the Pennsylvania Dept. of Transportation is allowing 61 emergency and critically important highway, bridge and tunnel projects to move ahead. The projects again became active during the week of March 30-April 3, PennDOT said.

The reactivated projects have a total value of about $1 billion, a PennDOT spokesperson told ENR. The Associated Pennsylvania Constructors estimates that PennDOT's annual highway and bridge construction program totals $2.2 Billion.

PennDOT’s March 31 announcement regarding the restart of the projects comes two weeks after it halted all of its construction projects across the state, to implement Gov. Tom Wolf’s directive to suspend projects of all construction types because of the coronavirus pandemic. (See ENR story on state's construction suspension here.)

Robert Latham, executive vice president of the Associated Pennsylvania Constructors, says that the 61 projects being restarted represent less than 10% of the estimated 800 PennDOT highway projects that were put on hold. “However, it is a start,” he adds.

View list of emergency projects to be restarted here.

Acting PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian said in a statement, “A safe and reliable transportation network is always of the utmost importance.” She added, “We need to ensure that work continues on these critical projects and we are taking the precautions to help ensure the safety of both our employees and our partners in the industry.”

The department said the projects affect safety needs, and include repairs to bridges, tunnels and drainage systems. Some also involve repairs after landslides. Also on the list are projects “to eliminate roadway restrictions that could impede the ability for the movement of life-sustaining goods and services,” PennDOT said.

The department added that these projects should be carried out with cleanliness on the sites and offices, as well as social distancing and procedures dealing with workers’ sicknesses and handling deliveries of construction materials.

Latham says, “I think the industry certainly recognizes the governor’s interest in keeping the commonwealth as safe as possible. We did urge very strongly that highway construction projects that can meet COVID safety regulations be restored as soon as possible.”

At Gramian’s direction, Latham says, the construction industry, PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, a separate entity, jointly developed a plan to restart highway projects including those at PennDOT.

That plan has three phases, the first of which calls for restarting emergency projects, “And they’re the ones that are going now,” he says.

Phase two includes projects that have “some safety issues that have to be addressed” before they can be moved into the restart phase, according to Latham.

Phase three includes projects that have utility-relocation or permit issues that currently prevent them from proceeding.

Latham adds that PennDOT on April 2 opened bids on 13 additional projects. The apparent low bids for the 13 projects totaled $75.4 million, according to a compilation by the constructors’ association.

Story updated on 4/3/20 with additional information from PennDOT and corrects the name of Associated Pennsylvania Constructors.