Bridges in Pittsburgh labeled the worst

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A report to be issued today says the Pittsburgh metropolitan area has the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges in the U.S.

Some 30.4 percent of the bridges in the Pittsburgh area are deficient, according to the report by Washington, D.C.-based Transportation for America, tops for metro areas with populations of 2 million or more. Oklahoma City was tops in metro areas of 1 million to 2 million at 19.8 percent and Tulsa, Okla., was first-ranked in areas with 500,000 to 1 million at 27.5 percent.

There are more than 18,000 deficient bridges in metro areas in the U.S., said the organization, a coalition of groups seeking reform of national transportation policy. In Los Angeles, an average of 396 drivers per second cross deficient bridges, it said.

"There are more deficient bridges in our metropolitan areas than there are McDonald's restaurants in the entire country," said James Corless, the organization's director. "These metropolitan-area bridges are most costly and difficult to fix, but they also are the most urgent, because they carry such a large share of the nation's people and goods."

The report said nearly 70,000 bridges nationwide are structurally deficient, a definition that does not mean they are unsafe but that they are substandard, may require more maintenance and may need to be weight-restricted or closed if deterioration continues.

The Federal Highway Administration estimates it would cost $70.9 billion to eliminate the backlog, while the federal government currently spends about $5 billion a year on the problem, Mr. Corless noted.

"The recent shutdown of the Sherman Minton Bridge between Kentucky and Indiana was yet another reminder of the urgent need to repair our nation's bridges," he said. "A sincere initiative to fix these bridges would put thousands of people to work while ensuring that these critical links continue to carry people safely to work and that goods can make it to market, now and well into the future."

"The dangerous state of our bridges is a problem that is not going away. Most of the nation's bridges were designed to last 50 years, and today, roughly a third are already 50 years or older, and the average age of bridges nationally is 42 years," Mr. Corless said.

Pennsylvania has long been the state with the most structurally deficient bridges and the highest percentage of deficient spans in the country. PennDOT has been emphasizing bridge repairs in recent years and had reduced the number from more than 6,000 to about 5,300 as of March, but transportation officials have warned that insufficient funding would cause a reverse in that trend in coming years.

Meanwhile, there has been no action by Gov. Tom Corbett or the Legislature in response to the funding recommendations made in August by the governor's Transportation Funding Advisory Commission. It recommended a variety of fee increases and lifting an artificial cap on the tax on wholesale gasoline, moves that could generate up to $2.5 billion in new revenue for roads, bridges and public transit.

Legislative leaders have been waiting for Mr. Corbett to respond to those recommendations. On Tuesday, Sen. John C. Rafferty Jr., chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said three things have to happen for the Legislature to address the statewide transportation funding shortage: Mr. Corbett "has to come out front and say what he wants"; the governor's office must join with the House and Senate transportation chairs to draft legislation; and legislation needs to start in the state House because it is a revenue matter.

"Not one of the three has happened," Mr. Rafferty said.

The Legislature has 19 scheduled session days remaining this year, and observers have said no revenue-raising measures are likely to be considered next year, an election year for lawmakers.

"As each day goes along, I think the chances [of a solution this year] are decreasing," Mr. Rafferty said.


Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868.


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