PennDOT official: State making progress on structurally deficient bridges

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - | February 16th, 2017 7:28 pm

A new report calls for more investment on bridge repairs, saying 2106 federal transportation data revealed motorists travel across the nation’s 55,710 structurally compromised bridges 185 million times daily.

While the inventory of structurally deficient bridges has declined 0.5 percent nationally since the 2015 data, it would take more than two decades to replace or repair all of them at that pace, according to American Road and Transportation Builders Association Chief Economist Alison Premo Black, who conducted the analysis.

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick acknowledged the problem but cautioned the state has more comprehensive and current data that shows progress.

The association’s report says 4,506 of the state’s 22,791 bridges, or 20 percent, were classified as structurally deficient.

Kirkpatrick said there are about 25,000 bridges along Pennsylvania highways and another 6,000 bridges on local roads primarily owned by counties.

Since 2008, the state cut the number of structurally deficient bridges on state highways from 6,034 to 3,512, which equates to about 14 percent, Kirkpatrick said.

Bridges are rated structurally deficient if one or more of their major components deteriorates. The state would impose weight limits or close a bridge if it is deemed unsafe, the state said.

“We’re making tremendous headway,” Kirkpatrick said, largely crediting state officials for passing the Act 89 transportation legislation, which includes a gas tax, to fund infrastructure needs.

In Luzerne County, there are 569 bridges on state highways, and 114 are structurally deficient, or 20 percent, state transportation statistics show. These bridges include spans along Interstate 81 and state Route 309, a state listing shows.

Kirkpatrick said about 32 percent of the 6,000 bridges on local roads are structurally deficient.

This includes 41 of 93 bridges on local roads in Luzerne County, or 44 percent, deemed structurally deficient, state data shows. Thirty-three of these structurally deficient bridges are owned by the county, the state said.

County engineer Lawrence Plesh said the county’s inventory of structurally deficient bridges has gradually declined, but the county can’t address all needs due to funding.

Bridges more than 20 feet long are eligible for federal funding as it becomes available, but replacement typically takes about seven years from conception to completion because of federal requirements, Plesh said. Construction or repair designs are underway for five bridges, he said.

Plesh emphasized the county regularly inspects bridges and would close them if necessary.

“There are no county-owned bridges that anyone is traveling on in danger of immediate collapse,” Plesh said.

Pennsylvania has the third-largest number of bridges in the nation, and these spans are 50 years old on average, the state said.

“The state is blessed with many waterways that must be crossed,” he said, noting about 200 to 250 bridges in the state are added to the structurally deficient category annually.

Established in 1902, the Washington, D.C.-based ARTBA is the “consensus voice” of the U.S. transportation design and construction industry, according to its release.

Black said in the release that the data led him to conclude the nation’s “’highway network is woefully underperforming.”

“It is outdated, overused, underfunded and in desperate need of modernization,” Black said.


By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.