Allentown PA- With Pennsylvania leading the nation in structurally deficient bridges, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), joined by Lehigh Valley leaders pushed for a long term transportation bill that will upgrade the nation’s roads and bridges. Casey also pushed to include a measure in the legislation that would increase funding for chronically underfunded bridges owned by counties and municipalities- so called ‘off-system’ bridges. At a bridge that could receive funding under a long term transportation bill, Casey and officials from across the region called for the investment. Casey’s bridge proposal is modeled after a previous effort that became law and invested over $70 million per year in bridges owned by counties and municipalities in Pennsylvania during fiscal years 2013 and 2014.
“A long term transportation bill will give communities the certainty they need to invest and plan substantial infrastructure projects,” Senator Casey said. “Investing in our nation’s roads and bridges will create jobs and make critical safety upgrades that in some cases are long overdue.”
Off-system bridges, bridges owned by counties or municipalities, were initially excluded from the federal National Highway System and thus from receiving federal funding. In 2013 these bridges received a reprieve from the federal funding cut-off because of a Casey provision in an appropriations bill that made bridges owned by counties and municipalities eligible. This effort resulted in $74M in bridge repair for Pennsylvania in FY 2013 and FY 2014. The bill Casey will discuss will make his previous provision permanent law thereby restoring the funding for these aging bridges and restore federal funding for bridges regardless of their designation. The proposal has received strong bipartisan support in the past. There are over 590,000 bridges in the United States, and more than fifty percent are off-system. Pennsylvania leads the country in structurally deficient bridges currently with 5,543 out of 22,667 total bridges being classified as structurally deficient. This translates to over 19 million daily trips taken over structurally deficient bridges.
MAP-21, a federal transportation bill that became law in 2012, eliminated the Highway Bridge Program, which shifted the program’s funding to the National Highway Performance Program (NHPP). Unfortunately, funding for the National Highway Performance Program only supports projects on the National Highway System (NHS), which excludes 467,584 on-and off-system bridges.
Restricting these dollars for use on a very limited number of bridges shortchanges the vast majority of our nation’s bridges, including those bridges with the greatest need for repair. According to the National Bridge Inventory, 10 percent of the nation’s bridges are considered structurally deficient and 14 percent qualify as being functionally obsolete. Nearly 90 percent of the nation’s structurally deficient bridges and more than 70 percent of the nation’s functionally obsolete bridges are not on the NHS and thus not eligible for federal funding. Limiting this funding to the projects eligible under the National Highway Performance Program creates a disparity that endangers the safety of citizens in urban and rural communities across the county.
The bill would restore funding eligibility to all of our nation’s bridges regardless of their designation. The bill would reestablish the Highway Bridge Program funding level from the NHPP Program to the Surface Transportation Program while maintaining the set aside for off-system bridges, which have the highest rate of structural deficiency and represent nearly half of the nation’s bridges.
Lehigh Valley County – Bridge Data
Total Bridges – 370
Total Off-System Bridges – 161
Total On-System Bridges – 209
Total On-System Bridges on the NHS – 132
Total On-System Bridges not on the NHS – 77
County-owned Bridges – 38
County-owned Bridges On-System – 1
County-owned Bridges Off-System – 37
Total Structurally Deficient Bridges – 67
Structurally Deficient Bridges (county-owned) – 18
Structurally Deficient Bridges On-System (county-owned) – 1
Structurally Deficient Bridges Off-System (county-owned) – 17
Total Functionally Obsolete Bridges – 105
Functionally Obsolete Bridges (county-owned) – 5
Functionally Obsolete Bridges On-System (county-owned) – 0
Functionally Obsolete Bridges Off-System (county-owned) – 5