The Pennsylvania Dept. of Transportation has shortlisted three teams to submit proposals to administer its Major Bridge P3 Initiative, a progressive public-private partnership aimed at speeding upgrades to critical interstate crossings amid an annual $8-billion funding gap.

The program will help address a backlog of large bridge reconstruction and rehabilitation projects by imposing tolls on the upgraded crossings to generate revenue for design, construction and maintenance. Earlier this year, PennDOT announced nine candidate projects for the initiative, several of which include multiple structures. The program was approved by a state oversight board last November.

The winning team will work with PennDOT under a pre-development agreement to finalize design and packaging of bridges to be built, financed and maintained. Each package will also include associated tolling infrastructure, including collection technology, gantry structures and buildings.

Finalist teams are

  • Bridging Pennsylvania Partners, led by Macquarie Infrastructure Developments LLC; and including Shikun & Binui Concessions USA Inc; STV Inc, FCC Construccion, S.A.; Shikun & Binui – America Inc; and SAI Consulting Engineers Inc.
  • Keystone Pathway Developers, led by Kiewit; with team members Star America PA Bridges, LLC; and Urban Engineers Inc.
  • Keystone Pathways Mobility Partners, led by Cintra Infrastructures SE, and includng Itinera Infrastructure and Concessions Inc.; Halmar International--North Tarrant Infrastructure joint venture; Jacobs Engineering Group Inc.; and KS Engineers P.C.

Proposals from the competing teams are due in early 2022, with a final selection anticipated in the spring.

According to PennDOT, finalist selection criteria included experience and technical approach to carry out the project; relevant experience and qualifications of key personnel; investment and financial experience; and overall understanding of the project and approach to deliver all project requirements. 

Previous agency statements have speculated that the first projects could get underway within two to four years after the P3 partner is finalized. PennDOT has mandated that all construction work be performed by contractors prequalified for work in Pennsylvania.

In addition, at least 65% of construction is to be subcontracted to other firms prequalified for work in the state.

Although PennDOT has used P3 delivery for projects such as a four-year, $900-million program to replace nearly 600 structurally deficient bridges, the tolling initiative has generated pushback from state Republican legislators.

Much of the criticism has centered around the effect of new tolls on the state’s trucking industry, while others say recent transportation budget additions plus the potential of added federal infrastructure funding make the program unnecessary.

In March, the state Senate approved legislation requiring the state P3 board to provide public access to analyses for any P3 proposal involving a user fee, plus a 30-day comment period before voting on the project.

The bill, which is currently awaiting action by the state House of Representatives Transportation committee, would also require applicable P3 projects to receive concurrent legislative endorsement before going forward.

PennDOT has stressed that additional oversight is not necessary for the initiative, as packages would be limited to those projects that have completed existing public involvement and environmental evaluation process, and secured federal environmental clearances.

Agency spokesperson Alexis Campbell adds that implementing the bill’s requirements would require the agency to devote funding and additional staff and consultant resources to analyzing candidate projects that might not receive approval, particularly when it comes to financing aspects.

“This would significantly impact our ability to complete other transportation projects,” Campbell says, “as we would be required to expend pre-development costs on projects that could ultimately be shelved and never approved or delivered.”