The state legislature’s failure to pass a transportation funding package this summer has led PennDOT to impose weight restrictions on about 1,000 bridges across the state.
Now officials in western Pennsylvania are worried the infrastructure troubles send the wrong message to the state’s biggest economic development effort—a multi-billion dollar ethane cracker plant proposed by Shell.
The plant would break up oil and natural gas into smaller molecules to create ethylene, which is a compound used to manufacture plastics. Although the plans have yet to be finalized, the project has been hailed by Governor Corbett as a much-needed job creator which would draw on the state’s vast natural gas reserves.
However the bridge weight restrictions are already impacting a chemical company near the site of the proposed cracker plant in Beaver County.
Representatives from NOVA Chemicals recently met with PennDOT officials to discuss a weight-restricted bridge on Route 18 crossing Raccoon Creek, next to the Ohio River.
Jack Manning is with the Beaver County Chamber of Commerce. He doesn’t believe the transportation funding issue will be a deal-breaker for Shell, but he does feel lawmakers are sending the wrong signals for economic development efforts.
“For whatever reason, the House can’t get their act together and get this thing passed,” says Manning, “It has long-term ramifications on economic development in our area specifically and Pennsylvania as a whole.”
Shell did not respond to a request for comment, but PennDOT says NOVA Chemicals is considering paying for the repairs itself. The company makes plastics for packaging products.
“Basically we told them the bridge needs $25,000 to $50,000 in repairs,” says Dan Cessna, head of PennDOT’s District 11. ”We said we could fix it down the road, but we don’t know when.”
NOVA Chemicals spokesman Pace Markowitz says the company is hopeful to resolve the matter soon.
“[We have] raised our concerns to PennDOT and have been pleased with their response so far,” he wrote in an email.
Manning says much of the projected growth around the Shell cracker will be ancillary companies that will also rely on the Route 18 corridor.
“It’s just a reality that you’ve got to have bridges that are functional and not weight-restricted for that kind of construction and that kind of production to come out of that corridor,” he says.
The Marcellus Shale Coalition, which represents the state’s gas drilling industry also believes the bridge weight restrictions are adversely impacting their business.
“We are still analyzing the listings to determine the extent of just how consequential this announcement may be,” MSC spokesman Steve Forde said in a statement.
The Senate passed a $2.5 billion transportation package this summer, but the House did not put a plan to a vote.
House Republicans are currently discussing a much smaller $500 million plan.