Liberty Bridge a symbol of transportation funding campaign


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The Liberty Bridge in Downtown Pittsburgh will be a poster child of sorts in an advertising campaign designed to pressure Congress into passing a long-term transportation funding bill.

Laborers' International Union of North America, based in Washington, D.C., will air a radio commercial noting the bridge is rated structurally deficient, as are one of every nine bridges in the nation.

It also plans to display a billboard near the bridge that says, "This bridge was built to last 50 years ... in 1928."

"The Liberty Bridge is a symbol of the neglect of our nation's bridges," LIUNA communications director Rich Greer said in an email. "Congress has several viable options to work with and has no excuse not to act to make our roads and bridges safer.

"Failing to act will cause further deterioration, making our transportation systems less safe and costing hundreds of thousands of jobs."

While it may be a symbol, the Liberty Bridge will be rehabilitated whether Congress acts or not. The state Legislature passed a transportation funding bill in November that enabled the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to schedule the start of an estimated $60 million project next year.

The bridge is showing signs of deterioration, including rust, and PennDOT lowered its weight limit to 30 tons last year, but officials repeatedly have declared it safe. It is inspected frequently, including in each of the last three months.

The LIUNA radio commercial will air on several Pittsburgh stations in June and July.

"The year was 1928 and Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly a plane across the Atlantic Ocean," it says. "In Chicago, Eliot Ness was heading up the infamous prohibition unit and Congress approved construction of the Hoover Dam ... 1928 also marked the construction of Pittsburgh's Liberty Bridge. Like so many bridges in our country, it was built to last 50 years and is now considered structurally deficient by the Federal Highway Administration.

"We don't need another tragic bridge collapse like the one in Minneapolis. Congress has a responsibility to all Americans to invest in our vital infrastructure, and the time to act is now," it says, urging listeners to visit fixourbridges.org to send messages to their senators and representatives.

Three other billboards are part of the campaign. One states: "Be prepared when crossing this bridge," and shows an orange life jacket.

Another shows a school bus with a chunk of fallen bridge on it. The bus is wrapped with police tape and emblazoned with: "Think this can't happen? Well think again."

A third says, "Potholes not only cause injury. They cost U.S. drivers $80 billion in auto repairs." A dog is shown leaning out a car window, wearing a neck brace.

The ad campaign will begin in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan, Mr. Greer said. Radio ads and bridge billboards will be designed for each market.

The federal Highway Trust Fund, supported by dwindling gasoline tax revenue, is projected to run out of money in August, which could bring a halt to federally funded highway and bridge projects if Congress fails to act.

President Barack Obama has proposed a four-year, $302 billion plan that increases overall transportation spending by 37 percent. Four members of the Senate this week unveiled a bipartisan six-year measure that would continue spending at current levels plus inflation.

In announcing the ad campaign, LIUNA general president Terry O'Sullivan said many of the union's half-million members work on road and bridge construction projects and that inaction would hit the industry hard.

"Another short-term patch, simply duct-taping the roads and bridges we all rely on, must be off the table," he said.


Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at www.post-gazette.com/Roundabout. Twitter: @pgtraffic.

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