These are the raw and depressing numbers that should put every state and federal lawmaker to shame: In Luzerne County alone, there are 122 deficient bridges handling combined daily traffic of 721,205 vehicles.
That’s 27 percent of the county’s 445 bridges and 21 percent of all bridge traffic. And it is surely one reason Pennsylvania has the dubious distinction of ranking number one among all 50 states in deficient bridges, with a staggering 5,543 bridges in need of repair. That’s almost one out of every four bridges.
Harrisburg — a city known for it’s own high number of bridges crossing the Susquehanna River — proved deaf to this dilemma recently when the state Senate managed to muster approval of a bill to boost money for repairs, only to have the bill wither in the House.
Enter U.S. Sen. Robert Casey, D-Scranton, who announced his proposal to boost federal funding for bridges owned by counties and municipalities, typically the most neglected spans simply because so many local governments are acutely cash-strapped.
“These bridges are relied upon for many people and especially for emergency vehicles like fire trucks, ambulances and police vehicles,” Casey said during a teleconference last week. “That can result in tragedies we don’t even want to contemplate.”
The weakness in Casey’s plan: He’s shuffling existing federal money around, not increasing it. More bridges will get fixed, but something else on the federal transportation to-do list will be left undone.
Still, at the very least the proposal calls attention to a very real problem that does not go away simply because legislators, particularly at the state and local level, tend to close their eyes to it.
It behooves pols to remember bridges are needed for safety and commerce.
No one disputes that money is tight, but neglecting road infrastructure, particularly bridges, is a lose-lose habit that has to end.