PennDOT stoppage avoided after Wolf, lawmakers reach short-term deal

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

Construction work at the Mount Rose Avenue interchange on Interstate 83 should continue through at least February under Gov. Tom Wolf's short-term PennDOT funding solution, officials said Tuesday.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation had threatened to cease work on hundreds of road projects across the state — including the Mount Rose Avenue project — because of a $600 million funding shortfall.

The governor's office is "looking at potential ways to make sure that construction projects do not stop," the governor's spokesperson, Lyndsay Kensinger, said Tuesday.

Monday was the last day of the General Assembly's legislative session, so the pressure was on to resolve the funding dispute by the end of the day or risk having to wait until the new year.

Details about where the stopgap money would be pulled from the state treasury were unavailable Tuesday, but Neal Lesher, spokesperson for state Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, said he hopes to have more information by the end of the week.

"The ultimate goal is that there’s no pause of any kind (on roadwork)," Lesher said.

Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, asked PJM to "withdraw" the "Independence Energy Connection" project. Dawn J. Sagert photo

As for a permanent solution, Lesher said legislators are reviewing several options but that there are still a lot of unknowns, including whether the new Congress will approve federal stimulus funds to help state governments fill COVID-19 budget holes.

The amount of direct stimulus funds allocated to state and local governments, and how to distribute those funds, was a major stumbling block in negotiation between Congress and the White House earlier this year.

It's also unclear whether Republicans will maintain control of the U.S. Senate pending two runoffs in Georgia next month.

State legislators could also authorize a bond issue next year, but Lesher said they would prefer not to, if other options are available.

"We're going to want to make sure that if we have to go that route, we’re not borrowing any more than necessary," he said.

PennDOT officials have blamed the pandemic, which included a lengthy statewide stay-at-home order, for a significant decline in revenue. A tax on gasoline is a key funding mechanism for PennDOT's projects.

Last month, PennDOT requested a $600 million bond issue authorization from the legislature to cover the shortfall.

Republican legislators balked at the request, claiming PennDOT officials should have addressed the problem sooner.

Construction continues at the Mount Rose Avenue, Interstate 83 junction after Governor Wolf allowed certain road project to resume work following the COVID-19 shutdown. Saturday, April 25, 2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

For York County residents, and their state representatives, news that work will continue on the overdue and overbudget Mount Rose Avenue project will likely come as a relief.

The $58.3 million project was initially slated to be completed by Maryland-based contractor Cherry Hill Construction in 2018, but that completion date has been pushed back twice, most recently in August when PennDOT announced the project would be done in April of next year.

Cherry Hill and PennDOT remain in a legal battle over who is to blame for the delays. The state Board of Claims has not yet ruled on the matter.

The stopgap funding will also allow the $29.8 million Shrewsbury Exit 4 interchange project, expected to be completed by next spring, to continue.

More:Negotiations in Harrisburg over PennDOT's $600M budget shortfall continue

More:PennDOT cash shortage could stall Mount Rose Avenue/I-83 project