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Pa. Bridges Deteriorating Quicker Than Funds Arrive

Fri August 15, 2008 - Northeast Edition
Bill Bergstrom

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Of the 20 busiest structurally deficient bridges in Pennsylvania, 12 have received no work in the past year beyond regular maintenance, according to an Associated Press analysis.

Fourteen of the 20 bridges carry or are connected to Interstate 95 in Philadelphia, where a crumbling support pillar shut down the East Coast’s major north-south artery for more than two days in March.

The 12 that got only routine maintenance are scheduled for future work. Three others are listed as repaired, though two of those still have more work planned. Five more are listed as partially repaired with more work planned.

The 20 Pennsylvania bridges carry an average of about 160,000 vehicles per day. Nineteen are in or near Philadelphia and one is in Pittsburgh. That span, the Saw Mill Run bridge on Parkway West, just south of the Fort Pitt Tunnel, is partially repaired with more work planned.

Two of the Philadelphia-area bridges are on I-76; one on U.S. Route 1, also known as Roosevelt Boulevard; and the rest on I-95 and its ramps.

The AP review looked at each state’s 20 most heavily trafficked structurally deficient bridges, using the National Bridge Inventory. The AP asked state transportation departments to explain the current status of repair on each bridge and any future repair plans.

“A lot of I-95 bridges made that list because it has the highest traffic volume in the state,’’ Rich Kirkpatrick, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation press secretary, said.

Consequences of an infrastructure failure on I-95 — commuter chaos and long detours for truckers — were immediately obvious in March. A 6-ft. crack in a 15-ft.-high concrete support column forced a complete shutdown for emergency repairs, sending the interstate’s 185,000-vehicle-a-day traffic load all onto detours and gridlocked surface streets.

Gov. Ed Rendell picked that site for a news conference recently, just days before the Minnesota bridge collapse anniversary, to call for federal help with repairs to crumbling bridges and roads in Pennsylvania and nationally.

Pennsylvania, which has more structurally deficient bridges than any other state, is pursuing other avenues, including a bid for federal approval to add tolls to Interstate 80. The idea has businesses and residents along the interstate’s northern Pennsylvania corridor up in arms, but state officials say the tolls would raise an initial $1 billion a year for road work, new bridges, mass transit subsidies and the like.

Rendell and others pushing for more federal infrastructure spending say states cannot keep pace with fast-rising construction costs even for the most urgently needed repairs.

“The total cost of I-95 repairs in Philadelphia is several billion dollars, and the funds have just not been identified,’’ Kirkpatrick said.

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