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Cash-strapped PennDOT may be forced to stop construction work

Money troubles for PennDOT may cause millions of dollars in road construction projects to shutdown December 1.

LUZERNE COUNTY, Pa. — State leaders say PennDOT came to them in the 11th hour of state budget meetings saying it needs $600 million to pay for current construction projects, and if there's no money, much of the roadwork will have to be shut down on December 1.

Several PennDOT construction and maintenance projects are underway in Luzerne County and throughout the commonwealth, but whether or not some of those projects will be completed remains to be seen as state leaders say PennDOT is in need of emergency funding.

"Well, November 19 PennDOT the Secretary Gramian had made an alarming statement that PennDOT was going to be out of cash and billions of dollars worth of road and bridgework were going to stop if they did not get a $600 million bond to help with cash flow through the end of the year," explained Sen. John Yudichak, (I) 14th District. "Now what that means to Luzerne County, there's over $130 million worth of work, 15 projects, that will stop December 1, if we don't come up with a plan to fund that $600 million bond issue."

Hundreds of the projects could be halted around the state, many of which are being done by private contractors like Kuharchik Construction based in Exeter.

One of its jobs is working to upgrade a traffic light on Main Street in Edwardsville.

Robert Bresnahan is the CEO of Kuharchik Construction that employs more than 100 people in Luzerne County. 

But he says more than 200,000 could be out of work across the state if PennDOT shuts projects down. 

These people will be out of work just weeks before the holidays.

"December 1, from what they're saying, the lights turn off, and I mean literally and figuratively, not because I'm standing in front of a traffic signal. Traffic signals need to be maintained. Highway lighting needs to stay on roads need to be repaired in emergency circumstances," said Bresnahan.

While state leaders tell Newswatch 16 they are looking for a short-term solution to keep that from happening, Bresnahan says this is a problem that affects more than just construction workers and needs a long-term solution.

"It's not just us. I mean, we have a lot of subcontractors, vendors material suppliers are all going to be faced with a similar uncertainty here. So, we're playing it very carefully we're listening, day by day minute by minute, and hopefully the legislature can come together and pass some kind of gap here to make sure that our construction crews and our workers and subcontractors continue to work," added Bresnahan.

The intersection at Route 315 and Pittston Avenue in Laflin is undergoing construction, too, to make that part of Luzerne County safer for drivers. 

It's something Tommy Grimes, the COO of Calex ISCS, a trucking and warehouse company nearby, has been advocating for years.

"We want everybody to work safe. We want everybody to come to work and go home the same way they gave in the same condition. We don't want anything that is going to disrupt safety," Grimes said.

Grimes has concerns about PennDOT's $600 million shortfall that was brought to lawmaker's attention just last week.

"PennDOT sprung this on the legislature, kind of in the 11th hour, as we were finishing the budget in November, but we're going to work with the treasurer and work with PennDOT. We're going to work with the Wolf administration to find a solution. We need to find a solution to this $600 million shortfall. We need to get these projects back online and get Pennsylvanians back to work," said Sen. John Yudichak, (I) 14th District.

Sen. Yudichak says if they can't find a solution, PennDOT needs to stop projects on December 1, not something Grimes wanted to hear.

"With the current crisis of no funding, will it get finished is the question?" Grimes said about the 315 intersection.

While state legislators try to find a solution to this problem, Grimes sees a desperate need for better planning and maintenance on roads and bridges by the state.

"Conditions of bridges, so a driver will tell us that they were delayed because of an emergency bridge repair, emergency deck repaired to a bridge. What that means, I really don't know, but there's a lot of people putting a lot of overtime and working on bridges," Grimes said. "We transport household goods and food. And if you disrupt the supply chain. It will be devastating."

PennDOT told Newswatch 16 on Tuesday that it lost $400 million in gas tax revenue because of the pandemic and expects that loss will amount to $600 million by June of 2021.

It will not be able to make that up despite budget cuts and reallocations of funds.

PennDOT says which construction projects may be shut down will be done on a case-by-case basis. 

Also, this money issue will not affect snow plowing or salting this winter, even if the state cannot find a way to provide emergency funding.