P3 project will fuel natural gas-powered buses.

DALLAS - Pennsylvania is seeking qualifications from companies interested in competing for a public-private partnership that will fund, build, and operate up to 37 facilities to fuel public transit buses with compressed natural gas produced in the state.

The request for qualifications was released last week by the Pennsylvania Public-Private Transportation Partnership Office.

The qualifications are due by Dec. 23, to be followed by a request for proposals in spring 2015. Selection of the private partner is expected in summer 2015. The CNG project was approved by the state's P3 board in September.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation will sign a supply contract to provide the selected private partner with the natural gas that will be compressed at the facilities as well as agreements with the participating transit agencies to purchase the fuel.

The state will receive a portion of the fuel sales revenue but will return the money to transit agencies to assist with funding for their capital projects.

Pennsylvania Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch said the P3 project will allow transit agencies to benefit from clean-burning natural gas that will produce lower exhaust emissions than conventional diesel-fueled vehicles.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for PennDOT and its transit agency partners to team with the private sector to take advantage of the state's natural gas resources, save money, and improve our environment," said Schoch, who is also chairman of the seven-member Public Private Transportation Partnership Board.

"Natural gas is a valuable resource that provides affordable, cleaner options for vehicles in Pennsylvania," he said. "This project will ensure we can capitalize on this resource and also benefit the authorities that provide vital transportation services."

Pennsylvania became the second-largest natural gas producing state in the nation in 2013 with the increased output from hydraulic fracturing of shale gas deposits. Gas production in the state grew by 72% in 2012 from 2011.

Pennsylvania took over second place in the list of top natural gas producers from Louisiana in 2013 and now its annual output is surpassed only by Texas.

The board and the state's transportation P3 program were created by the Public and Private Partnerships for Transportation Act, which became law in September 2012.

The P3 board is charged with determining whether state or local transportation projects can be more cost-effectively administered or delivered through private partnerships than by governmental agencies.

The board selected Plenary Walsh Keystone Partners in October for an $899 million P3 program to replace 558 bridges across Pennsylvania. Work will begin in summer 2015 and must be completed within 36 months.

The state will retain ownership of the bridges, with the private partner responsible for maintaining the structures for 25 years. The partner will receive availability payments averaging $65 million a year over the contract term.

Schoch said the P3 project will deliver and maintain the new bridges at an average cost of $1.6 million. If the state built them, he said, the cost for each bridge would be $2 million.

"This agreement helps Pennsylvania take a big step to cutting further into its backlog of structurally deficient bridges," Schoch said.

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