Inflation impacting infrastructure spending in Pennsylvania

May 31, 2022

Officials concerned the benefit of federal dollars may not meet expectations

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) officials are concerned that federal funding may not have the benefit they expected. This is due to persistent inflation and problems getting basic materials such as concrete and asphalt.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, problems include the cost and availability of construction materials, rising fuel costs and the availability of workers, especially for the overnight work the department prefers to reduce the impact of road projects on traffic.

Cheryl Moon-Sirianni, PennDOT’s district executive for Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties, said that low bids for contracts have been coming in 10% to 20% higher than the department anticipated.

“It’s very disappointing,” Moon-Sirianni said. “We were very excited when this money became available because it would allow us to do a lot of work that we know needs to be done."

Several hundred million dollars of major construction projects were added to Moon-Sirianni's district late last year, including upgrading the West End and McKees Rocks bridges and paving Business Route 22 from Wilkins through Monroeville. According to the Post-Gazette, officials may need to delay those projects if the bids continue to come in at high levels.

Higher costs are impacting the entire state. PennDOT officials said bids across the state are averaging about 4.7% higher than expected, even after the department made adjustments for inflation at the beginning of the year. 

Job-site issues with lack of materials and workers haven’t delayed projects yet, but contractors have had to switch to other aspects of a project when they can’t get needed materials. Some companies are struggling to find crews willing to work overnight, and night-time deliveries of concrete and asphalt can be difficult.

Procedural changes at PennDOT could help reduce the impact of inflation on road work, and the construction industry has asked PennDOT to allow low bidders to order materials earlier rather than waiting at least 30 days for the authorization to proceed.

“A lot of this [waiting] is unnecessary. More has to be done to accommodate this work,” said Chuck Niederriter, chief operating officer at Golden Triangle Construction. “They have to give us a little more time to set things up. That would help both of us.”

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Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette