Study Shows One-Quarter of Pennsylvania Bridges Need Repairs

Wed July 16, 2003 - National Edition

HARRISBURG (AP) One-quarter of Pennsylvania’s highway bridges are “structurally deficient” and in need of immediate repair or replacement, including hundreds of spans that carry at least 10,000 vehicles every day, says a study released June 25 by a construction industry research group.

“Pennsylvania has the third-highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges in the country, behind only Oklahoma and Rhode Island,” the study’s authors said.

Of the more than 22,000 Pennsylvania bridges tracked by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), 25 percent showed significant deterioration to decks and other major components that constitute structural deficiencies, said the Washington-based group called The Road Information Program, or TRIP. Another 18 percent were labeled “functionally obsolete” because they no longer meet modern design standards.

The study found 652 structurally deficient bridges around the state where the daily traffic flow is at least 10,000 vehicles, but drew no conclusions about them. It said only that high-traffic bridges are “of particular concern” for the state and local governments that maintain them, because of the weight of the vehicles and the difficulty of repairing those that are crucial links in regional highway systems.

The chairmen of the Senate and House transportation committees said the TRIP findings underscore the need for additional funding for bridge maintenance and acknowledged that they may advocate increasing state taxes on gasoline to raise the money.

How much of an increase is “still in negotiation,” said Sen. Roger A. Madigan, the Bradford County Republican who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee.

Madigan was joined at a Capitol news conference June 25 by other legislators and representatives of the state highway-construction industry, township supervisors, emergency medical workers and farmers.

“When bridges are closed or limited due to deterioration, farmers cannot get their milk and other produce to market, fire and ambulance vehicles cannot respond to emergencies. People cannot get to their places of employment. And our companies cannot move their products,” Madigan said.

TRIP said structural deficiencies do not necessarily mean that a bridge is unsafe. It noted that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) inspects every bridge in the state at least once every two years and closes any that are deemed unsafe for cars until they can be repaired or replaced.

“Bridge maintenance is an ongoing mission” at PennDOT, said agency spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick, noting that the relatively large number of older bridges makes maintenance a costly undertaking.

“It would take something on the order of $7 billion” to bring all the bridges in the state highway system up to modern standards, he said.

Other findings in the TRIP study:

• Clearfield County has the highest proportion of structurally deficient bridges in the state with 45 percent, followed by McKean, Lawrence, Cameron, Potter, Butler, Wyoming, Beaver, Armstrong and Elk counties.

• Among the state’s urban areas, Pittsburgh has the largest share of structurally deficient bridges with 354 of 1,210 bridges, or 29 percent. Philadelphia, which with 2,307 bridges has more than any other urban area, has 518, or 22 percent, that are structurally deficient.

• The average Pennsylvania bridge is 48 years old. Forty-five percent of the bridges are more than 50 years old, and 17 percent are more than 75 years old. Most bridges have a design life of 40 to 50 years.