Built in 1939, the Charles Anderson Bridge has been slated for an overhaul for years. The city’s 2016 capital budget allocated $750,000 for preliminary engineering work. In the years that followed, projected allocations and timelines for the project changed repeatedly. Money for the project was earmarked in capital budgets over the next three years, with an allocation that grew to $3.3 million by 2019, but that wasn’t spent down.
The city convened public meetings in 2019, but the coronavirus pandemic slowed the work. Even so, in January 2022 the city was able to offer a proposed design for the bridge’s rehabilitation. The $48 million overhaul would preserve the bridge’s historic nature, allow for better passage of large Pittsburgh Regional Transit buses and school buses,while providing wider sidewalks for pedestrians and a separate cycle track for people on bikes.
And the project gained new momentum this winter, when PennDOT and the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission stepped in.
Most infrastructure funding comes from the federal government, which doesn’t just write checks directly to Pittsburgh. Instead, the money must go to a Metropolitan Planning Organization, which the feds task with planning out transportation priorities for urban regions. For Pittsburgh and the surrounding 10-county region, that organization is called the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, or SPC. For a project to move ahead, it has to be on SPC’s to-do list, which is assembled every year.
“It’s a living document,” said Andy Waple, deputy executive director for SPC’s programs division.
That to-do list, called the Transportation Implementation Plan, gets amended every month by the SPC’s Transportation Technical Committee, a group of planners and engineers who know how to get projects out the door.
At its regular meeting last week, the committee moved the Charles Anderson Bridge up the priority list, and allotted money to it.
Waple said that happened when PennDOT alerted the committee that it could move funds from the state’s Bridge Investment Fund, powered with money from the federal infrastructure bill. He said PennDOT took that step thanks to advocacy from the mayor’s office.
Waple said such allocation changes happen all the time. And in fact, if money isn’t directed to priorities, “We won’t receive as much federal money in the future and … that money can be taken away.”
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