Luzerne County Manager C. David Pedri said he was pleasantly surprised to receive notification Thursday that Sugarloaf Township has agreed to take over the 1-mile, county-owned Mountain Road after the county paves it.
Butler Township officials also will assume ownership of a connecting 3.7-mile stretch in its borders — the county-owned Foothills Drive — once it is redone.
In addition, Butler is willing to accept the remaining approximately 10 miles of county roads within the township if the infrastructure is brought up to standards, township Supervisor Charles Altmiller said Thursday.
This cooperation has prompted Pedri to issue a call for municipalities to contact him now if they want to take over county-owned roads and bridges in their areas.
“Any municipality interested will move to the top of the (repairs) list,” Pedri said, noting emergency situations must take precedence.
County roads and bridges have become a heated topic of debate in recent weeks with county council’s discussion of a $5 vehicle registration fee, which was approved this week.
Set to take effect in September, the fee on 281,000 vehicles will generate an estimated $1.4 million to repair the county’s 302 bridges and approximately 125.3 miles of roads. The state will match up to $2 million to fix bridges in each county with a $5 fee, but only once, a PennDOT official has said.
Council members added a provision automatically ending the fee if the state match is not continued for a second year.
Pedri and some council members expressed support for citizen Brian Shiner’s suggestion to grant preference for projects that will allow the county to shed infrastructure.
Municipalities shouldn’t dally because the administration is in the process of updating its road and bridge plan to come up with a prioritized roster of infrastructure that will be addressed the next five years through the vehicle fee revenue and other funding streams, Pedri said.
For example, Pedri expects to fund the full-depth reclamation of the 1-mile stretch of Mountain Road that Sugarloaf Township has agreed to take over with a portion of $15 million in county community development funding from a business development loan fund that is no longer in high demand.
This $15 million can be applied to infrastructure improvements primarily in low- and moderate-income areas, officials have said. While some of this funding will be offered to municipalities, Pedri said he will attempt to use as much as possible for county-owned road and bridge projects that meet federal qualification guidelines.
The county administration already had planned to seek bids this spring to rehabilitate Foothills Drive and West County and Beisels roads in Butler and Sugarloaf townships, officials said.
Negotiations also are underway for Black Creek Township’s possible takeover of a county bridge and Hanover Township’s potential future ownership of a combined 7.12 miles of roadway in the Hanover Industrial Estates, including New Commerce Boulevard, Pedri said.
‘Let’s get them fixed’
Pedri thanked Butler and Sugarloaf officials, saying a county road and bridge crew of less than 20 must maintain and plow infrastructure spread across 38 municipalities, including many rural townships.
“These takeovers will allow county staff to focus more attention on other roads,” he said.
Butler Township also took over tiny Saams Road Bridge in recent years after the county purchased a new box culvert.
Township ownership makes sense, Altmiller said, because he and other supervisors routinely receive complaints about the poor condition of county-owned roads from residents who assume the infrastructure belongs to the municipality.
He held up the Bentwood Village development in the township as an example of the problem of varied road ownership.
Located on a mountainside with a steep access road, the approximately 30-house complex contains township roads, he said. For the most direct access, township plow trucks must travel on about 4 miles of roads owned and plowed by the county to reach Bentwood, said Altmiller, who also serves as township roadmaster.
“We have to go there anyway,” Altmiller said.
Township real estate taxes won’t increase as a result of the takeover because the county will provide mint condition infrastructure that allows the municipality to start receiving additional liquid fuels revenue, Altmiller said. The county’s Foothills Drive project will meet standards for heavily traveled roads, with concrete mixed in the subbase under the new blacktop, he said.
“We all have friends and family along these county roads, which are in horrible condition, so let’s get them fixed,” Altmiller said. “They are damaging to cars.”
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.