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Federal data shows Pa. bridges the worst in the nation

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New data from the 2013 National Bridge Inventory database recently released by the U.S. Department of Transportation shows Pennsylvania with the worst bridges in the nation.

The report found Pennsylvania (5,218) has the highest number of structurally deficient bridges. Twenty-three percent of the state's bridges are deficient, the highest percentage in the U.S.

The problem could get a lot worse, the chief economist for the American Road & Transportation Builders Association said in a news release, as states across the nation face a slowdown in reimbursements for already approved federal-aid highway projects in August.

Without congressional action, Alison Premo Black said there will be no Highway Trust Fund support for any new road, bridge or public transportation projects in any state during FY 2015, which begins Oct. 1.

The trust fund finances maintenance and construction projects at the state level and receives money from a federal fuel tax of 18.3 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel fuel and related excise taxes. The fund is nearing bankruptcy and requires congressional action to stave off insolvency.

"Letting the Highway Trust Fund investment dry up would have a devastating impact on bridge repairs," Black says, noting the trust fund has supported $89 billion in bridge construction work by the states over the past 10 years."It would set back bridge improvements in every state for the next decade."

Pennsylvania is in better shape than some states thanks to Act 89, passed in the fall. The state legislation hiked gas taxes and other vehicle fees to provide $188 million this year for state roads and bridges and $35 million for local roads/bridges. By fiscal year 2017-18, the fund is expected to generate $2.3 billion for the former needs, and $237 million for the latter.

But Black said Congress needs to take the lead.

"The bridge problem sits squarely on the backs of our elected officials," she said. "The state transportation departments can't just wave a magic wand and make the problem go away. It takes committed investment by our legislators. Members of Congress need to come to grips with that. Some of our most heavily traveled bridges were built in the 1930s. Most are more than 40 years old."

Bridge decks and support structures are regularly inspected by the state transportation departments for deterioration and are rated on a scale of zero to nine, with nine being "excellent" condition. A bridge is classified as structurally deficient and in need of repair if its overall rating is four or below.

While these bridges may not be imminently unsafe, ARTBA suggests they be sign posted so the public knows.

Pennsylvania was followed on the list by Iowa (5,043 deficient bridges), Oklahoma (4,227), Missouri (3,357) and California (2,769). Nevada (36), Delaware (56), Utah (117), Alaska (133) and Hawaii (144), have the fewest structurally deficient bridges.

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