More work to do: Improved state of bridges can't lull lawmakers

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Here's hoping lawmakers don't misinterpret the latest information on the condition of Pennsylvania's bridges.

The number of state-maintained, structurally deficient spans has fallen from 5,600 three years ago to fewer than 4,500 now. That's good news, but it's only half the story. There still is a lot of work to do, and Pennsylvania continues to lead the nation in the number of deteriorating bridges.

In Western Pennsylvania, that means nearly a quarter of the state and local bridges remain structurally deficient, a designation which means at least one element -- the superstructure, substructure or deck -- is in poor condition or worse. Drivers in Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland counties regularly cross 1,054 such bridges.

Lawmakers would be smart to focus on what needs to be done, not on the improvement that's been made. Better conditions over the past three years were the result of more money going toward bridge repairs -- from federal stimulus dollars and a state bond issue devoted solely to fixing the spans -- but that money is gone.

Gov. Tom Corbett proposed a $1.8 billion plan based largely on removing the artificial cap on the gasoline tax paid by wholesalers and by making driver's licenses and vehicle registrations valid for longer time periods, which would front-load payments. If lawmakers approve it, Pennsylvania's Department of Transportation estimates it will be able to further reduce the number of deficient bridges to about 3,700 by 2020. Without the additional resources, the number likely would increase to 4,800.

Legislators can go one better by passing Senate Bill 1, which would provide an additional $700 million by increasing license and registration fees to match inflationary increases since 1997, when current rates were set.

There are a lot of good reasons to pass that transportation funding plan. Making more Pennsylvania bridges safe for the long haul is a very important one.

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