Jurisdiction to Allocate An Above-Grade Pedestrian Only Bridge
In County of Bucks v. Pennsylvania Pub. Util. Comm'n, 684 A.2d 678 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1996), the Pennsylvania Public Service Commission (PSC), in a 1917 order, directed that an at-grade highway crossing be abolished and ordered that, before the railroad abolished the crossing, it had to construct and maintain an above-grade pedestrian bridge at the same location.
In 1985, the railroad petitioned the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) for permission to abolish the crossing where the pedestrian bridge crossed over the tracks.
At that time, the railroad and the Township of Bristol agreed that the pedestrian bridge was a hazard.
The PUC granted the petition and ordered the railroad to bear the cost, in the first instance, to remove the stairway to the bridge and barricade it to pedestrians.
The PUC also determined that a hearing was needed to determine the allocation of costs and expenses for the closing and removal of the structure.
At the hearing, the PUC, the railroad and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation filed a stipulation recommending that the Township and County of Bucks bear the costs for closing the bridge, as well as all future maintenance costs.
Also at the hearing, the railroad changed the relief it sought and requested only the permanent closure of the bridge, rather than the abolishment of the crossing, so that it would not need to restructure its catenary system.
The Administrative Law Judge observed that the railroad was federally exempted from paying the allocated closing costs and assessed those costs upon the Township (25%) and the County (75%).
The PUC adopted this determination, rejecting the County's and Township's exceptions.
The County appealed to this Court and the Township intervened.
On appeal, the County and Township contended that the PUC did not have jurisdiction to close or allocate the costs of closing a pedestrian-only bridge.
The Court agreed, noting, "the PUC's authority to allocate the costs in a highway-rail crossing must be found within the Public Utility Code ... and no such authority exists... ." Id. at 682.
The PUC contended that it had jurisdiction because, its forerunner, the PSC, had ordered the bridge to be built.
Our opinion noted that the issue of the PSC's jurisdiction had apparently not been raised when it ordered the abolishment of the highway crossing and its jurisdiction may have been assumed.
The Court explained, however, that:
Once the highway bridge was abolished, as ordered by the Public Service Commission, there was no basis for the PUC's assertion of jurisdiction based on any purported jurisdiction of the Public Service Commission.
Even if the Public Service Commission had been given jurisdiction over pedestrian bridges by the 1913 law, it is within the powers of the General Assembly to narrow or redefine the PUC's jurisdiction as it sees fit. Id.
Further, the Court noted that, "the plain language of the present Public Utility Code limits the PUC's jurisdiction to highways for vehicular traffic, which excludes the pedestrian bridge at issue here without regard to any prior assertion of jurisdiction." Id.