Editorial: Private sector to grow, be wary of inefficiency

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

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Pittsburgh, topping the list of cities around the world with the most bridges, has moved to rehabilitate and enhance at least 500 of its bridges in 2015.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is asking the private sector to assist in replacing bridges across the state in an effort to diminish the large number of structures that are currently deficient.

This move is commendable, especially considering the negative reputation of many states’ departments of transportation. PennDOT’s decision to seek the help of private contractors is an economically sound decision, particularly because of the potential increase in construction jobs, among others, but the department must consider the relevant concerns in contracting to private companies.

As of Dec. 31, Pennsylvania housed 4,211 structurally deficient bridges. This is concerning for the contingent that travels the bridges, but the deficiency of the bridges does not necessarily render them out of service. In fact, a structurally deficient status identifies that at least one component of the structure is deteriorating, which might affect the amount of weight the bridges can endure.

Because of the recent expansions of transportation funding and enhanced partnerships between the public and private sectors, PennDOT will be able to capitalize on the contracting deals. By searching the state for the most affordable private contractors, the state will be able to cut costs down and expedite the process of rebuilding bridges, as more will be built under the same companies, which will also improve the accessibility of fixing and upkeeping the structures for years to come.

PennDOT spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt said in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the public-private partnership “gives [PennDOT] the ability to accelerate the delivery of 550 to 650 bridge replacements that otherwise wouldn’t happen for 15 to 20 years if [PennDOT] were to use a traditional contracting model.”

While the efficiency of repairing and maintaining the bridges for the foreseeable future has increased, the state government has to be wary of the inefficiencies that come alongside such productivity. During the private contractor selection process, the media, state government and private citizens must actively examine the ongoing process and prior relationships between the companies and state officials.

This situation presents an opportunity for kickbacks and embezzlement, which have profited company owners and local officials in other situations and should be a significant concern and something PennDOT actively condemns. 

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