Lancaster metropolitan bridges second worst on national level

TEMP ORARY November 4, 2011 0

Recent reports from local newspapers state that the Lancaster County metropolitan area has the second worst bridges in the nation within the category of towns with 500,000 to one million residents. The worst bridges can be found in the Tulsa, Okla. metropolitan area.

These structurally-deficient bridges can be found not only in the Lancaster County metropolitan area, but all over Pennsylvania.

“It definitely doesn’t come as a surprise to me,” Joel Harnly, a first-year commuter student from Lititz, Pa., said. Harnly also stated that, though he does not drive across many terrible bridges on his way to Elizabethtown College, he does travel over a one-lane bridge and a covered bridge, both of which can be “a pain sometimes.”

Though many of the students at the College are from local areas, Paul Cramer, vice president for enrollment at the College, does not see the bridge news affecting prospective students looking at the school. As for structures on campus, Cramer had this to add via email: “I do know Elizabethtown [College], with help from the State of Pennsylvania, is doing its best to bring its own bridge/dam (along Lake Placida) up to code. This project will begin in the coming year.”

According to the original report released by a national public policy organization, Pennsylvania has the second highest percentage of deficient bridges in the country, at 23 percent. The report states that Lancaster County’s state–and locally–owned bridges are at 24 percent structurally deficient. The Tulsa, Okla. metropolitan area has 27.5 percent of its bridges recorded as structurally deficient under the same circumstances.

To determine if a bridge is structurally deficient, a Federal Highway Safety Administration rating system is used. The system, like a grading system in education, gives a numerical score to three different parts of each bridge: the deck, the part of the bridge vehicles drive on; the superstructure, the part that supplies the support for the deck; and the substructure, the part that is fastened into the ground and holds the superstructure where it needs to be. The three components are scored on a scale of zero to nine, with zero being the worst possible score. If a bridge receives a four or lower on any component, it is deemed, by federal guidelines, structurally deficient.

“Just because a bridge is considered structurally deficient does not mean the bridge is unsafe to drive on,” Rick Musser from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation said. “It could mean the bridge needs paint or re-stoning, not necessarily rebuilding.”

There are 747 bridges in the Lancaster County metropolitan area, and, according to the report, 198 of them are categorized as structurally deficient. “I do not want people to be worried about deficient bridges; the report just put all the bridges in one category, when they really are not all that bad. Just some of them need a lot of work,” Musser added.

Transportation for America, the group responsible for the report, is a coalition made up of several different organizations with the common goal of supporting all transportation and land use laws and regulations. Its report also highlighted the statistics for the United States as a whole. In the U.S., 69,223 bridges are structurally deficient. That is 11 percent of all bridges in the nation. The Highway Safety Administration has found that over $70 billion is needed to repair all of the structurally deficient bridges.

“More money is being allocated for bridge repairs now that the study came out,” said Musser. “And now, more then ever, there are more contracted bridges in the Lancaster County area and in Pennsylvania.”

Federal, state and local monetary sources are needed to foot the bill for the bridges, and, with the economy as it is currently, there is not enough money to help all the bridges in the Lancaster County metropolitan area, let alone the entire U.S.

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