When work resumes on the Upper Bridge section of the Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway on Monday, all contract workers will follow COVID-19 safety guidelines as required by a safety plan submitted by the contractor, and approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
"We've been working with our contractors to develop the requirements for COVID-19 protocols," said Acting Secretary of Transportation Yassmin Gramian, during an hour-long teleconference on Tuesday afternoon. "We have brought in the Department of Health and CDC guidelines into the requirements, and we have put in place what is required of our own employees when they get to a job site."
Work on all projects will be conducted in accordance with CDC and Pennsylvania DOH guidance as well as a project-specific COVID-19 safety plan, which will include protocols for social distancing, use of face coverings, personal and job-site cleaning protocols, management of entries to the job site, and relevant training.
"We review these safety plans and keep them on file and make sure that the work is being done in a safe environment for our workers and for their workers while they are working on those projects," she said.
In addition, Gramian said, PennDOT is assigning a COVID-19 operator to make sure that all the guidelines that we have provided and the contractor has put in their safety plan are being followed.
"We are very vigilant that all the commitments are being delivered," she said, "so that it is a safe environment."
In the case of the CSVT bridgework, that main contractor is Trumbull Corp., of Pittsburgh.
Change in business practices
Meanwhile, Gramian, said "after the governor's order to stay-at-home, "it made us change the way we do business. And we have made some drastic changes. The biggest one is through the teleworking we've been doing and making sure we are doing more digital services, getting away from in-person meetings. We brought in more technology to the way we are doing business."
Transportation supports our economy even as we took aggressive action to pause the projects and services, we've maintained critical functions, Gramian said. "We wanted to make sure that we help those most vulnerable get to their medical appointments. We resumed construction projects on May 1 and have given flexibility to our driver vehicle service customers."
Several questions during the teleconference had to do with the re-opening of DMV service centers.
DMV opening in the Valley and in yellow counties
"Our intention is to open up our DMV customer service offices as soon as we possibly can, safely," said Deputy Secretary for Driver and Vehicle Services Kurt Myers "We are currently going through a review of all of our processes with the experts in the Department of Health to ensure that we are taking all the steps necessary to not only maintain the safety of our employees but also of our customers. And when that is signed off on, we'll be in a position to open up.
"So we'll be back in as soon as possible and it will be a relatively short period of time after the area turns yellow," he said. "But we want to be sure that we do it safely. The DOH will give us their final sign-off. The focus right now is on the 24 county region that turns yellow.
Part of the plan is to ensure social distancing not only inside our operations, whether a photo center or a driver's license center, but also outside.
"This will be a shared responsibility," Myers said. "We'll seek the cooperation of our customers when they arrive and when they go inside. It will not be by appointment, although we are setting aside time at our centers as we move forward for those who are 60 and over and we will be publicizing that information when we do begin to open up our centers."
Services will change, he said. "We are prioritizing services so some will not be available initially. As we move forward we will add additional transactions."
Myers also noted that they have extended registration until May 31, driver's license, learner's permit have been extended to June 30. "We are carefully monitoring the extension dates based upon the amount of work that is coming in, from the standpoint of how that will impact us moving forward. We do 20,000-25,000 transactions a day in our DMV centers and our centers have been closed since March 16. So there is a backlog. Doing an extension allows for flexibility.
Registrations, for the most part, can be done online and customers can print their own registration cards, Myers said. "Clearly when we do open, and we are focused on the 24 county area that went to yellow...as centers reopened we expect there will be large numbers of customers needing services that we haven't been able to do over the last month and a half."
Revenue shortfall anticipated
Meanwhile, Gramian expressed concerns that the Pennsylvania Turnpike might not be able to make its quarterly payments in the upcoming new fiscal year — that support mass transit. Gramian noted that there are fewer people driving during the pandemic, license revenue is down, and gas tax revenue is down. "So it is a concern," she said.
As of April, Gramian said, there was a 30 percent reduction in revenue. Typically, monthly revenue is $300 million.
"But these are all estimates," she added.
Gramian hoped that monies from the CARES act would provide some transportation revenue.
"If we do not receive any money from the federal government's CARES act, we will need to re-evaluate our programs in 2021," she said. "We are preparing for the best-case scenario and the worst-case scenario."