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Author: Tony Phyrillas
Date:  August 14, 2007

Topic category:  Other/General

Say a prayer before crossing Pennsylvania bridges


All the talk about raising the gas tax to provide more money for bridge and road repairs is a smoke-screen. There's plenty of money coming in from the state and national gas tax. The problem is that politicians use the money for pork projects instead of maintenance. Giving them more money to waste is not the answer.

After claiming for months that information about the condition of Pennsylvania bridges is a state secret, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has released safety ratings of 54 steel deck bridges located in the state.

PennDOT Secretary Allen D. Biehler announced that both the "sufficiency" and "condition" ratings for the 54 bridges similar in design to the bridge that collapsed in Minnesota have been posted at www.dot.state.pa.us

"This list represents the first step toward providing additional data about Pennsylvania's 25,000 state maintained bridges, "Biehler said in a statement. "In the coming weeks, we will add the data for the rest of our large bridge inventory."

Pennsylvania ranks No. 1 in the nation in structurally deficient bridges.

Pennsylvania has nearly 6,000 structurally deficient bridges, according to PennDOT. One in four Pennsylvania bridges is considered structurally deficient, meaning they are in need of some level of repair.

Approximately 800 bridges have weight or lane restrictions and 54 are closed, according to Biehler.

PennDOT's Web posting contains a glossary of terms used in bridge charts, a drawing of a steel truss bridge with components identified and the chart with individual bridge information, including the sufficiency rating and three condition ratings numbers, according to Biehler.

"Our bridge engineers use these numbers to manage our system and help us decide on prioritizing bridge needs," Biehler said. "The numbers should not be viewed as a measure of whether a bridge is safe or not. If a bridge is open, it is safe for travel."

That's probably what transportation officials said about the bridge in Minnesota before it collapsed Aug. 1.

The truth is the Rendell administration has been diverting money for road and bridge repairs for years to subsidize failing mass transit systems. Bridges and roads don't vote. But the high-paid union workers who drive buses and trains and the politically connected officials who run the bloated mass transit systems do vote -- and contribute to politicians.

Keep your fingers crossed, or better yet, say a prayer, next time you cross a bridge in Pennsylvania.

I'm sure Biehler doesn't want to be known as the transportation secretary in charge when a bridge collapsed, but this is the same man who was in charge in February when thousands of motorists were stranded on Interstate 78 during an ice storm.

Biehler says his people are doing extra inspections of the 28 steel deck truss bridges PennDOT owns that are similar in design to the Interstate 35 bridge that collapsed in Minnesota. PennDOT has also asked the owners of the 26 other steel deck truss bridges in the state to inspect them right away.

All state-owned bridges are inspected every two years and more frequently if a bridge has serious deterioration, Biehler said.

In 2006, PennDOT spent $558 million on bridge projects. But the state poured nearly $1 billion to subsidize inefficient mass transit systems.

The much-ballyhooed plan to toll Interstate 80, which may not happen if two Pennsylvania congressmen have their way, would provide an additional $532 million per year over the next 10 years to repair roads and bridges, according to Biehler.

But that's not enough to fix all the crumbling bridges in Pennsylvania. If you study Gov. Ed Rendell's strategy over the past five years, he ignores a problem until it becomes a crisis and then extorts the Legislature to raise taxes.

All the talk about raising the gas tax to provide more money for bridge and road repairs is a smoke-screen. There's plenty of money coming in from the state and national gas tax. The problem is that politicians use the money for pork projects instead of maintenance. Giving them more money to waste is not the answer.

Pennsylvania already has the second highest gas tax in the nation. The state also charges some of the highest fees to register and inspect vehicles. Motorists are doing their share. It's the politicians who have let us down again.

Tony Phyrillas
http://tonyphyrillas.blogspot.com (Columnist)


Biography - Tony Phyrillas

Tony Phyrillas is a leading conservative political columnist and blogger based in Pennsylvania. He is a veteran journalist with 25 years experience as a reporter, editor and columnist for several newspapers. Phyrillas received recognition for column writing in 2010 from the Associated Press Managing Editors, in 2007 from Suburban Newspapers of America and in 2006 from the Society of Professional Journalists, Keystone Chapter. A graduate of Penn State University, Phyrillas is the city editor and political columnist for The Mercury, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning daily newspaper in Pottstown, Pa. In addition to The Mercury website (www.pottsmerc.com), his columns are featured on more than a dozen political websites and blogs. Phyrillas is a frequent guest (and occasional host) on talk radio and has been a panelist on the "Journalists Roundtable" public affairs TV program on the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN). Phyrillas was named one of the '10 Leading Greek-American Bloggers in the World' in 2007 by Odyssey: The World of Greece magazine. BlogNetNews.com ranked Phyrillas the Most Influential Political Blogger in Pennsylvania for three consecutive years (2007-2010). You can follow Phyrillas on Twitter @TonyPhyrillas


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