Pa. Senate bill would create database of inspection info for Pa. bridges | Tuesday Morning Coffee

PennDOT would maintain the database under a plan by a W.Pa lawmaker

By: - January 31, 2023 7:02 am

An Allegheny County Port Authority bus involved in the collapse of the Frick Park Bridge on Friday, January, 28, 2022. (Pittsburgh City Paper photo).

If you’ve ever found yourself wondering whether the bridge you cross during your morning commute is safe or due for repair, a western Pennsylvania lawmaker has you covered.

bill now before the Senate Transportation Committee would authorize the creation of a statewide database of all bridges that are maintained at federal, State, county, or municipal expense.

The measure’s sponsor, Sen. Jim Brewster, D-Allegheny, introduced his proposal late last year, just before the start of the current legislative session.

The Pittsburgh-area Democrat introduced a similar bill during last year’s legislative session, but it died in committee without ever coming to a vote.

In a memo seeking co-sponsors for his proposal, Brewster said the state Department of Transportation would be charged with developing and maintaining the database. It would be searchable by county, municipality and the PennDOT engineering district.

If approved, the database also would show the proposed schedule for the reconstruction, maintenance or repair of each bridge, along with an estimate of the cost — if it’s available.

The bill also would require the state auditor general to conduct a quadrennial inspection of the records for every bridge in the database, and issue a report showing whether the bridges had been inspected within the time scheduled; whether the inspection report has been filed, and whether the inspection was completed by a certified bridge inspector, Brewster wrote.

A fence stands where the demolished Fifth Street Bridge used to cross Route 22 in Whitehall Township. The bridge will be rebuilt with money from President Biden’s $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (Capital-Star photo by Katherine Reinhard).

All this matters because Pennsylvania’s infrastructure, including its bridges, water systems, and roads only received fair-to-middling marks on an industry-standard report card.

The report by the American Society of Civil Engineers, released last November, gave Pennsylvania an overall grade of C- for the state of its public infrastructure.

It’s the same grade the commonwealth received on the trade group’s 2018 report card, LehighValleyLive reported at the time.

“Progress is real, but challenges remain. Pennsylvania has some of the oldest infrastructure in the country,” the trade group wrote. “Substantial maintenance backlogs have accrued in several areas as recent investment runs into new challenges such as inflation and resiliency to withstand climate change.”

But if Pennsylvania’s scores of bridges were a student, they definitely would be held over for summer school. The state got a D+ for the condition of its bridges.

“Pennsylvania has the ninth largest bridge inventory in the nation, coupled with an average bridge age nearly a decade older than some other states. Despite a 4.5% decrease in the number of poor condition bridges, Pennsylvania contains the second highest number of poor condition bridges among states: 25% more than the next state,” the trade group wrote on its report card.

The good news: The bipartisan infrastructure law that President Joe Biden signed into law provided $13 billion in transportation funding over five years. And over the last year, PennDOT crews started addressing those problem areas.

Now the bad news: Earlier this month, the state Senate approved legislation rolling back an increase to the state’s gas tax that had taken effect only days earlier. The state’s gas tax is the second-highest in the nation, behind only California, the online news service, Capitolwire, reported..

The panel’s chairperson, Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Cambria, said the rollback will cost PennDOT about $225 million in lost revenue, Capitolwire reported.

Alexis Campbell, a PennDOT spokesperson, told Capitolwire that the bill would reduce state support for road and bridge repairs and “impact our ability to fully match new federal funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.