New Castle News

Closer Look

June 21, 2013

Report: State, county high in deficient bridges

NEW CASTLE — A report released this week shows Pennsylvania ranks the worst nationally in overall condition of state bridges.

In addition, the report ranks Lawrence County fourth of all counties in the state for the worst bridges.

The report, issued by Transportation for America, says 43.6 percent of the county’s bridges are structurally deficient or 112 out of its 257 bridges.

But one state official begs to differ. State Rep. Chris Sainato commented that many of Lawrence County’s bigger bridges have been replaced during the past decade, along with several of the smaller ones.

Sainato said he wonders if that report is outdated.

“If you look back six or eight years, our numbers might have been higher,” he said, “but they’ve repaired or replaced a lot of them. PennDOT’s been doing a really good job with replacing bridges in our county, including in my district.”

The report, called “The Fix We’re In For 2013,” finds that drivers in Pennsylvania regularly travel across heavily trafficked bridges rated structurally deficient — those that could become dangerous or closed without repair.

The report is the latest update from Transportation for America, a transportation reform coalition based in Washington, D.C., that produced a similar report in 2011 based on a national database of bridge inspections maintained by the Federal Highway Administration.

Statewide, 26.5 percent of bridges are rated as “structurally deficient,” according to government standards, compared to 11 percent nationwide.

Nearly 67,000 bridges nationwide are considered structurally deficient. Roughly half of those are 65 years old or older.

The Federal Highway Administration estimates transportation agencies would need $76 billion to repair or replace deficient bridges, according to the report.

Congress repeatedly has declared the condition and safety of bridges to be a national concern. However, funding to fix them is becoming less available with declining gas tax revenues and a fiscal squeeze at all levels of government.

Congress made the prospects for bridges even more uncertain last year by eliminating a dedicated fund for them in its update of the federal transportation program. The new law also reduces access to funds for 90 percent of structurally deficient bridges, most of which are owned local governments, leaving bridges to compete with every other funding priority.

Sainato speculated such special interest groups are debating the governor’s proposal for transportation, which calls for a gas tax increase of up to 30 cents per gallon.

“Next week we’re going to be looking at transportation,” he said of the House. “We don’t need any new projects. I think any transportation bill needs to fix existing roads and bridges.”

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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