Monday, May 3, 2010

Time To Get Serious About our Bridges

Fact: Pennsylvania bridges are in horrible shape.

"Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of structurally deficient bridges, with 5,646," the governor said. That is more than the deficient bridges in the New England states, New York, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio and Virginia combined.

Fact: Pennsylvania legislators are idiots. After the Bush administration rejected tolling of interstate 80 on the grounds that the tolls were going to spent on other roads besides 80, Pennsylvania legislators decided to ask the same exact question of the Obama administration. Needless to say, the "ask mommy" approach didn't work. Only now are they considering asking for the right to toll and repair those particular roads. But this time, it's an emergency and their casting their net as wide as interstates 95, 81, and 79.

Fact: Pennsylvania legislators are cowards. Legislators are afraid to raise taxes this year to solve this emergency problem because it's an election year. Of course, this isn't a unique problem to Pennsylvania. To them I say, it's a lot worse to have a bridge collapse on your watch than to raise taxes. Ask Minnesota. The I-35W Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis was rated "structurally deficient" for years before this heavily used bridge's 2007 collapse. PennDOT has started to make progress on repairing the thousands of structurally deficient bridges in Pennsylvania, but the progress is slow and steady. With a lack of funding we will again lose ground.

Minnesota learned their lesson the hard way. After the bridge's collapse, the state legislature passed a $0.055 per gallon fuel tax. Let's take our lessons from them and save our bridges before its too late. Of course, the best way to save our bridges from further deterioration is to decrease their usage. According to Port Authority of Allegheny County, one bus can take up to 60 cars off the road. One light rail vehicle can take up to 125 cars off the road. A double-pronged approach of repairing bridges and increasing funding to public transportation will go a long way towards solving our problems in Pennsylvania.


Dean Jackson said...

So, question.

The USS Tower Downtown is made of a steel that requires no painting, and doesn't seem to deteriorate over time.

Our bridges seem to require regular work all the time.

Why aren't we making bridges as durable as we can?

Ben said...

@Dean: Buildings are great because they don't really lose and gain a whole lot of load compared to the weight of the structure. Bridges, on the other hand, are constantly battered by changing and moving weight and incredibly few points of contact to the ground. Plus aren't the yellow bridges prettier than USS?

As a civil engineer (and environmentalist), I say toll I-80 and raise the gas tax!