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South Williamsport, PA
United States

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Working Together

This past summer, there was a major battle over a proposed county ordinance for a five-dollar county fee on every non-exempt vehicle registered in the county. Hours and hours of debate ensued over it before it was finally passed at a County Commissioners Meeting on June 15, 2017, as Ordinance 2017-02. The story “The Five

This past summer, there was a major battle over a proposed county ordinance for a five-dollar county fee on every non-exempt vehicle registered in the county. Hours and hours of debate ensued over it before it was finally passed at a County Commissioners Meeting on June 15, 2017, as Ordinance 2017-02. The story “The Five Dollar Fight” was featured in this column at that time.

The issue was birthed out of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Act 89 of 2013 allowing counties the discretion to impose this $5 fee specifically for transportation issues. There is no transportation issue as critical as deficient bridges. Pennsylvania bridges have the distinction of being ranked among the worst in the nation, and Lycoming County has its share of these bridges that need attention.

Local bridges (those not owned by the county or PennDOT) are the most serious concern. Roads are difficult enough to maintain, but townships and boroughs responsible for repairing and even replacing bridges experience a serious financial burden.

Mark Murawski, the county’s Transportation Planner, had been working for some time on an innovative idea to address this local bridge problem. In the early part of 2017, he initiated an intensive study and came back to the commissioners identifying 40 structurally deficient bridges in the county, in nineteen different municipalities. Then, Mark presented his plan to a county meeting of township supervisors in April to gauge their interest in a joint plan. He offered these municipalities an opportunity to have a bridge repaired with a 5% of cost buy-in, with the remaining 95% coming from the Act 89 money. Following this would be the process of securing a bond in which the income stream from the county vehicle fee would cover the payments.

At the annual convention of the Lycoming County Association of Township Officials held in Pennsdale on October 25th, Mr. Muroski announced that seventeen of the nineteen townships had agreed to partner in on the county program. He had contacted these townships and told them that they needed to prioritize what was their most critical bridge that would need to be repaired. These seventeen bridges would require a $7 million price tag to fix, which the Act 89 money and the subsequent bond would make possible. There are more bridges that will need to be repaired, but this is an excellent help to addressing a very challenging problem.

Nothing happens instantly, of course, especially when the government is involved, so actual construction is still at least a year or two away. But there is something rather elegant about this whole process. The state government allows the county government to improve its infrastructure if it so chooses (rather than mandates), and the county government likewise allows local government to voluntarily participate in a program that will directly benefit the local population.

This is a great tribute to the county and all area governments involved and also true democracy in action. As Ronald Reagan once reminded us, “Cooperation and goodwill among free people will carry the day.”

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