Digital Exclusive: State of the state’s bridges

Digital Exclusive

PITTSTON, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) It’s no secret that Pennsylvania has a high number of roads and, especially, bridges in disrepair but exactly who’s responsible for them and what are they doing about it?

“PennDOT is responsible for approximately 25,000 state-owned highway bridges. Our bridges probably consume about 80% of our transportation improvement program,” said PennDOT’s assistant district executive for design Susan Hazelton.

One look at Penndot’s interactive bridge condition map may give you a fright about crossing one of those bridges. The red dots indicate they are in ‘poor condition’.

“Upon inspection, if a primary structural element; that being the deck, the superstructure, the substructure or the culvert itself has advanced deterioration,” she cited.

PennDOT says if a bridge fails inspection it is immediately closed, but more bridges are getting closer to that point.

In 2013, the government of the commonwealth passed Act 89 designed to allocate funds for improvement projects.

Pennsylvania has the nation’s second highest gas tax and a fair chunk of that money should be going towards repairs of roads and bridges. State Representative Mike Carroll is the Democratic chair of the transportation committee and says it’s not that easy.

“Our region’s bridges are numerous, to start with,” he said. “We have, in District IV — the northeast region of the state, roughly 2,100 bridges in the system. There are additional bridges that are county bridges and local government bridges.”

The Keystone State is unique as the burden on PennDOT is greater than most states.

“Because of Pennsylvania’s (state route) system, those four-digit routes, PennDOT has responsibility for more than 40,000 miles worth of road,” noted Carroll. “That is far in-excess of almost every other state. We have many roads that, in other jurisdictions, would be considered local roads — but are PennDOT’s responsibility.”

He also says that even with having so much to cover, our area is getting attention.

“In our region we’ve gone from roughly 6,000 bridges that were in dire need of repair, down to about 2,500.”

Carroll says it would be more noticeable, but there’s an issue. He says funds from transportation are being shifted into paying for state police.

“The dollars that flow to the state police today would serve our transportation network in a real way when you’re talking about six to seven hundred million dollars, annually, that we could keep to repair our roads and bridges and support the state police, financially, from the general fund — where that money should come from,” he added.

While Pennsylvania is struggling with police funds and departments, Carroll says that would be less of an issue if there were meaningful transportation legislation coming from capitol hill.

“You hear it with this administration. You’ve heard it with prior administrations — but the reality is there hasn’t been a real transportation bill in federal government for some time,” said Carroll. “The time has come for federal partners to support the transportation needs across our region, our state and our nation.”

Without federal aid and some issues to iron out within the state, there is progress.

“So we’ve made improvements but there are still plenty of bridges that need repair and many of those bridges are more than 50-years-old and have really exceeded their capacity with respect to their service life.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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