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COUNTY CHESTER v. PENNSYLVANIA PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSION (11/19/79)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: November 19, 1979.

COUNTY OF CHESTER, PETITIONER
v.
PENNSYLVANIA PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSION, RESPONDENT

Appeal from the Order of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission in case of Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission v. Department of Highways of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, City of Coatesville, County of Chester, Penn Central Transportation Company and National Railroad Passenger Corporation, Complaint Docket No. 18838.

COUNSEL

Norman J. Pine, Assistant County Solicitor, with him John S. Halsted, County Solicitor, for petitioner.

Richard S. Herskovitz, with him Harvey S. Miller, Assistant Counsel, John B. Wilson, Assistant Counsel, and George M. Kashi, Chief Counsel, for respondent.

President Judge Bowman and Judges Wilkinson, Jr., Blatt, DiSalle, Craig and MacPhail. Judges Crumlish, Jr. and Mencer did not participate. Judge Rogers disqualified himself. Opinion by Judge MacPhail.

Author: Macphail

[ 47 Pa. Commw. Page 367]

The County of Chester (County) appeals to this Court from a decision of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) ordering the reconstruction of a bridge/railroad overpass in the City of Coatesville (City), finding the County to be "interested" and "concerned" with the crossing, and further ordering the County to contribute 25 per cent of the total cost of material and labor used in reconstructing the bridge.*fn1 On appeal, the County alleges that the

[ 47 Pa. Commw. Page 368]

PUC lacked the legal authority to determine that it was a "concerned" party and to allocate costs against it because the bridge's only connection with the County was its location*fn2 and that even if the PUC did have such authority, such allocation on the facts of this case constitutes an abuse of discretion. For the reasons which follow, we affirm the PUC's order.

Section 409 of the Public Utility Law (Law), Act of May 28, 1937, P.L. 1053, as amended, 66 P.S. § 1179(c)*fn3 provided that:

[ 47 Pa. Commw. Page 369]

Upon its own motion or upon complaint, the commission shall have exclusive power after Page 369} hearing, upon notice to all parties in interest, including the owners of adjacent property, to order any such crossing heretofore or hereafter constructed to be relocated or altered, or to be abolished upon such reasonable terms and conditions as shall be prescribed by the commission. . . . The commission may order the work of construction, relocation, alteration, protection, or abolition of any crossing aforesaid to be performed in whole or in part by any public utility or municipal corporation concerned or by the Commonwealth. (Emphasis added.)

Section 411 of the Law, 66 P.S. § 1181(a)*fn4 provided that:

[T]he expense of such construction, relocation, alteration, protection, or abolition of any crossing, shall be borne and paid, . . . by the public utilities or municipal corporations concerned, or by the Commonwealth, in such proper proportions as the commission may, after due notice and hearing, determine, unless such proportions are mutually agreed upon and paid by the interested parties. (Emphasis added.)

Section 2 of the Law, 66 P.S. § 1102(15) included "county" within its definition of "municipal corporation."*fn5

The clear provisions of the Law, then, authorized the PUC to determine who was a "concerned" party and who should bear the costs of a bridge reconstruction. The only remaining issues are whether the PUC erred in determining that the County was a concerned party and in allocating a portion of the reconstruction costs to it.

[ 47 Pa. Commw. Page 370]

In a case such as this, we will not exercise our independent judgment on the record or weight conflicting evidence. Our only inquiry is directed to whether there is substantial evidence on the record to support the PUC's decision. Substantial evidence is competent and relevant evidence having a rational probative force. Findings of fact made by the PUC which are supported by substantial evidence are conclusive and may not be disturbed on appeal. Pittsburgh Railways Co. v. Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, 198 Pa. Superior Ct. 415, 427, 182 A.2d 80, 85 (1962). See also Department of Transportation v. P.U.C., 3 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 405, 411, 283 A.2d 313, 317 (1971).

In determining whether a municipality is "concerned," we must look to whether the action ordered by the PUC, here the reconstruction of a bridge, will result in substantial local improvement or a distinct local benefit for the residents of the municipality. See Somerset County v. Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, 132 Pa. Superior Ct. 585, 594, 1 A.2d 806, 810 (1938); Schuylkill County v. Public Service Commission, 77 Pa. Superior Ct. 504, 511 (1921); Lancaster County v. Public Service Commission, 77 Pa. Superior Ct. 495, 503 (1921).*fn6 There was uncontradicted testimony presented at the various hearings that a reconstructed bridge would provide a safer route for school children who currently walk over the bridge as it now stands or through dangerous railroad underpasses, better traffic control, better, safer fire and ambulance service not only to the City but also to outlying County areas which rely on the City's fire department, easier access to the County's second largest employer, a Veteran's

[ 47 Pa. Commw. Page 371]

Hospital located north of the City, and easier and safer access to City businesses. Of course, any benefit from the reconstructed bridge to the City and its residents is, by definition and location, also a benefit to the County and its residents. In allocating part of the costs of reconstruction to the County, the PUC stated:

However, because City of Coatesville and the County of Chester have benefited in the past from the existence of the bridge, and will additionally derive future benefit from reconstruction of the bridge structure, the remainder of the reconstruction costs shall be allocated to the city and the county.

The PUC's finding is supported by substantial evidence and its decision to allocate part of the reconstruction costs to the County was not error.

Order affirmed.

Order

And Now, this 19th day of November, 1979, the Order of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission at Complaint Docket No. 18838, dated June 21, 1978, is affirmed.

Disposition

Affirmed.


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