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Newspaper editorial boards urge action on repairing bridges

Pittsburgh Bridge Originally uploaded by mikeyexists to Flickr.

In the days since our comprehensive bridge report (The Fix We’re In For) was released, at least one governor has promised action and several newspaper editorials have urged their states to prioritize repair and address the growing backlog of deficient bridges.

In Pennsylvania, with the worst bridges in the country, there was little surprise that the report would make big headlines. New Governor Tom Corbett told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette that his transportation secretary will be creating a task force to look at the issue and come up with funding strategies to repair bridges — even telling the Tribune Review he’d consider selling state-owned liquor stores to pay for it. He’s also pledging to continue an accelerated bridge repair program created under former Governor Ed Rendell that has helped in recent years.

Today, the Post Gazette published an editorial on the issue focusing on what the state can do to help move Pennsylvania down the rankings in the coming years.

As if Gov. Tom Corbett doesn’t have enough financial challenges, last week brought a reminder of another problem that is not going away and will only get worse. According to Transportation for America, a coalition of groups working for national transportation reform, Pennsylvania still leads the nation in structurally deficient highway bridges.

What is depressing about this finding issued last Wednesday is that Gov. Ed Rendell made a priority of fixing bridges. By selling bonds and using federal stimulus funding, the Rendell administration did a lot of good work on bridges, without which the situation would be more dire. But, as this report shows, it’s hard to make up for years of neglect…

…The fact that Pennsylvania remains No. 1 in bad bridges can’t be blamed on Mr. Corbett, but the headlines that would come if a Minneapolis-type bridge disaster happened here would be part of his legacy. This latest report is a reminder that finding creative funding for bridges isn’t just a challenge — it’s a necessity.

As the Post Gazette hints at, states have a lot of power within the federal framework to do a better job with repairing their bridges. As our report notes, states aren’t even required to spend all of their bridge repair money on bridges. But a large part of the solution to this problem will come from Congress and the next multi-year transportation bill. That bill must provide more funding for bridge repair and it should hold states accountable for fixing their bridges with that money.

Until then, states with older infrastructure and a large backlog of deficient bridges, like Pennsylvania, will be fighting this battle at a bit of a disadvantage.

(Ed. note: The Times-Picayune in New Orleans offered a similar editorial)