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Bad shape

Published June 30. 2014 04:00PM

The small bit of positive news we heard last spring was that not all of the nation's bridges judged structurally deficient are about to fall down.

The bad news is that there are 63,000 bridges.

Whenever data is released about bad bridges, Pennsylvanians should be concerned since no state in the nation has more of them. An analysis by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, rated more than 5,200 of the commonwealth's 22,600 bridges 23 percent as being structurally deficient or unsafe.

Nine of the commonwealth's 10 most traveled bridges considered unsound are in the Philadelphia area, and one is on the turnpike, between Horsham and Fort Washington.

A report released last week by The American Society of Civil Engineers said deteriorating roads and bridges remain as big of a problem as they were in 2010, the last time the engineering group assessed the state's infrastructure.

The engineers gave Pennsylvania an overall grade of C-minus, which ranged from a D-minus for roads to a high grade of B for the state's largely privately run freight-rail system.

Many community officials say the potholes caused by last season's severe winter were the worst in many years, leaving some streets looking like war zones. The roads were especially bad in Northeastern Pa. where 66 percent of major roads in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area were reportedly in either poor or mediocre condition.

A national report ranked Scranton 17th out of all medium-sized cities in the country for having the most roads in bad shape. They were directly blamed for the high maintenance bills which cost Scranton drivers an average of $539 per year.

Under Act 89, the new transportation plan signed by Gov. Tom Corbett last November, liquid fuels reimbursements will increase by roughly $220 million over the next five years. The formula for payments is based on a municipality's population and miles of locally owned roads.

Carbon County was to receive $1,843,900, an increase of $131,766; Monroe County $4,639,827, a $330,269 increase; and Schuylkill County $4,740,143, a $338,597 increase.

Federal funds are vital. If the Highway Trust Fund, which provides money for road and bridge construction across the country, is not funded, more of the burden will fall on states and municipalities to finance the projects.

Both U.S. Sens. Pat Toomey and Robert P. Casey feel that transportation needs to be on the front burner for Congress. Toomey said that "funding road and bridge repair is an essential function of government" while a spokesman for Casey said the latest reports about the nation's deteriorating bridges should make a long-term transportation bill a priority issue.

Until that happens, roads will continue to deteriorate and motorists will be paying for the wear and tear on their vehicles.

By Jim Zbick

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