Sen. Casey pushes increased allotment for bridge repair

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WASHINGTON -- Deteriorating bridges would be fixed, but the work would come at the expense of roadwork according to a Senate proposal unveiled Thursday.

Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., want to require states to spend more of their federal surface transportation allocation on structurally deficient bridges owned by counties and municipalities.

The money comes from a $10 billion surface transportation fund, which is providing $414 million to Pennsylvania this year. Currently, states are required to spend 15 percent of their allocations on bridges, but Mr. Casey and Mr. Blunt want to boost that to 25 percent.

That would mean less money for other surface transportation needs such as highway repairs, new turn lanes, rail crossings, tunnel inspections, pedestrian walkways, carpool programs, recreational trails, truck parking facilities and more.

That concerns some in the transportation industry who say Mr. Casey and Mr. Blunt are taking the wrong approach.

"I don't think we agree with that as a policy. Rather than robbing Peter to pay Paul we'd like to see Congress end the shortfall in transportation funding that's been going on for 20 years," said Robert Latham, executive vice president of Associated Pennsylvania Constructors, the trade association for contractors, engineers, manufacturers and suppliers in the road-and-bridge construction industry.

Regional planning authorities -- not lawmakers in Washington -- should decide how to spend transportation dollars, he said in a telephone interview.

"They're the ones that identify transportation priorities," Mr. Latham said. "You may have an area that needs to spend 25 percent of its available allotment on bridges, but you might have another that has a lot of need for safety improvements, interchange improvements and things like that."

Mr. Casey said the funding shift would help Pennsylvania, which has a greater percentage of deficient bridges than any state in the nation.

"I'm working first and foremost for Pennsylvania, and this has a disproportional impact on Pennsylvania ... so that's the way I'm looking at it," he said.

Allegheny County has 292 structurally deficient bridges, according to the Federal Highway Administration -- more than any other county in Pennsylvania. This represents about 23 percent of the county's 1,272 bridges. Nearly 1.9 million cars pass over those structurally deficient bridges every day.

A third of Fayette and Washington counties' bridges are structurally deficient, and it's even worse in Schuylkill and McKean counties, where 43 percent are deficient.

The Federal Highway Administration classifies bridges as deficient if their decks, superstructures, substructures or culverts are in poor condition, if their load-carrying capacity is below current design standards or if floodwaters frequently reach their decks.

Typically, states place weight limits on structurally deficient bridges, causing truckers to take detours that can add to shipping costs for consumers.

"Among bridges in Pennsylvania, the average age is 54. I'm 53 and I feel old some days, and these bridges are older -- on average -- than I am," Mr. Casey said.

"Investing in our state's crumbling bridges will create jobs and ensure our counties and municipalities have safe and reliable transportation systems," he said. "I'm pushing for Congress to support this effort."

nation - Transportation

Washington Bureau chief Tracie Mauriello: tmauriello@post-gazette.com, 703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.


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