An engineering study on Nesquehoning's aging infrastructure system reveals some serious issues that it and other municipalities throughout our region and across the commonwealth must deal with ASAP.

With and budgets already stretched, officials must find creative ways to address problems of aging streets and water and sewer systems. Nesquehoning Council President Frank Jacobs rightfully explained that everyone is in the same boat in trying to bleed more revenues from their budgets.

When there's a failure with these aging underground systems, the results can be catastrophic, which was evidenced by the huge gas explosion and fire that left five people dead in an Allentown neighborhood two years ago. In some cases, replacement of the aging pipes is compounded by the fact that many of the old water, gas and sewer lines contain lead joints and connectors.

For years we've been told that Pennsylvania's bridges are structurally deficient and that state roads are among the worst in the country. Nesquehoning is just one example of small town governments being forced to deal with its aging systems. Across the commonwealth, there's a similar sense of desperation concerning the services we all take for granted.

In a report put out two years ago by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the state's aging infrastructure did not receive kind grades.

Pennsylvania received a C grade for its bridges, as 27 percent of its 22,280 spans were found to be structurally deficient and 17 percent were termed obsolete.

In dams and levees, the grade was a C-minus. About 39 percent of the "high hazard" dams were considered deficient, meaning a failure in any one of those 302 systems could cause probable loss of life and substantial property damage. The average age of the 64 levee systems in the commonwealth is 45 years, and about a third are over a half century old.

The state received a grade of D-plus for drinking water, as the number of water systems in violation of regulations continued to rise. It also received a D-plus for its navigable waterways. Although cargo shipping through inland ports and waterways was the most economical and environmentally friendly way to transport goods, the report noted that the 150-year-old shipping network was severely in need of maintenance.

In parks and recreation, the grade was B-minus. The report noted that although Pennsylvania parks are among the nation's best, funding needs to continue to manage the high ranking.

In railroad freight, where the demand was seen as growing at a rate much faster than the general population, the mark was a B. The Class I and Class II railroads were rated as being in a better position to handle their financial needs, but the smaller railroads were not.

In roads, the grade was a D-minus, with 38 percent of roads rated fair or poor. The state's vital highway network ranks fifth largest in the nation for the number of state-owned highways, with 40,000 state and 76,000 local miles.

As long as the water is running and people are able to move from point A to point B on the road, we tend to take our services for granted. Unfortunately, it's only when a road is closed for repair or the tap water is not running that these issues capture our attention, often resulting in a hefty bill for local governments and ultimately, the taxpayer.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com