There are nearly 4,500 “structurally deficient” bridges across the commonwealth today. This is more than any other state in the nation. PennDOT has weight-listed (restricted) approximately 1,000 those bridges that are state, county and municipally owned. Cumberland County is home to 14 of those bridges, 10 are in Perry County and six are in Dauphin County.
Government has responsibilities to generally provide for the common good. Building and maintaining infrastructure is a core function of government. Few people can argue against building and maintaining infrastructure for the common good.
We take our roads and bridges for granted until something goes wrong, then we expect immediate action. Imagine if a local bridge over the Conodoguinet, Swatara or Yellow Breeches creeks or a smaller tributary were to permanently close in your neighborhood. It would snarl local traffic, create lengthy school bus rides for your children every school day and delay everything from trash collection to UPS deliveries.
If you drive in our region on a daily basis, chances are very good you cross over a local bridge that, without regular maintenance and occasional major improvement, will be weight restricted or closed.
Beyond local roads, our interstate highways, bridges, rail and airports are vital to any economy, but they are particularly critical to areas that serve as transportation hubs for our country. The Harrisburg region is such a hub area. Harrisburg International Airport is a busy place through the night with FedEx and UPS loading large planes with shipments from throughout the larger region. We know we have a lot of trucks on our interstates and our share of big box warehouse facilities, but the logistics industry is a major part of our economy.
In order to sustain our logistics-related jobs and all that the industry contributes to the economic health of our region, we need to maintain our public infrastructure that supports the industry. In turn, the industry will do its part. A good point about transportation funding is that the people or industries that use the infrastructure the most will pay the most.
While emergency funding for bridge repair sounds like a good idea, this emergency has been building for years, and if basic funding is not addressed, it will be a continuous emergency. As a state we need to look at our infrastructure funding system and find ways to keep our highways, bridges and other transportation infrastructure well maintained, which takes money.
Gov. Tom Corbett's plan and Senate Bill 1 are good starts in addressing the problem that needs to be addressed now.
The Harrisburg Regional Chamber has vetted transportation funding through our transportation committee, our government relations committee and our board of directors. The Harrisburg Regional Chamber supports infrastructure funding now. Beyond passage of transportation funding legislation now; we suggest reconvening the Transportation Funding Commission (after funding is approved) to examine long-term needs and long-term solutions.
Let's not wait for the next crisis. Let's keep our public infrastructure in good repair rather than waiting until it is on the verge of collapse to act.
David E. Black is president and CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC.