Turnpike planning called into question over demolition of recently built bridges
The Pennsylvania Turnpike demolished six bridges it built less than 17 years ago, even though they were designed to last for 75 years, and plans to tear down an 18-year-old span this year as part of ongoing reconstruction of America's oldest superhighway.
“This may have been unfortunate, but the bridge replacements were essential,” turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo said.
A transportation expert and a Hempfield supervisor whose farm straddles the highway questioned whether planners should have thought ahead.
Critics have long complained about the Turnpike Commission's spending practices. A state grand jury is investigating its spending.
Turnpike officials dispute that the agency wasted money on the replacement projects, including one in Westmoreland County.
Gary Graham, the agency's assistant chief engineer for design, said the turnpike built the seven bridges during the mid-1990s for “safety reasons.”
They replaced deteriorated spans that went up in 1938 and 1939 — when the life expectancy for a new bridge was about 50 years.
The projects cost a combined $9.1 million, turnpike records show. The turnpike spent $13.8 million to replace the bridges after less than a quarter of their useful life expectancy in projects completed over the past seven years, records show.
It figures to spend more than $1 million on a seventh project this year. In addition to Westmoreland County, two bridges are in Somerset County, two are in Bedford County and two are in Cumberland County.
A plan to rebuild and widen the highway “wasn't on the radar yet” when the turnpike did the initial replacement on the bridges, Graham said.
In Hempfield, crews tore down the crumbling Eisaman Road bridge and replaced it with a span that opened in 1997, at a cost of $1.6 million. It stretched across four lanes.
The extensive rebuilding of the highway started two years later, with early work focused on replacing pavement, DeFebo said. Officials later included widening the highway to six lanes in each section it rebuilt, he said.
To date, 102 miles of the turnpike have been rebuilt at a cost of more than $2 billion, DeFebo said. The agency's debt jumped from $2.6 billion to $8.3 billion since 2007, forcing it to borrow money and raise tolls annually.
Work began between the Irwin and New Stanton interchanges in 2006, with $110 million in improvements planned. The old Eisaman Road bridge remained open as construction began on one less than 100 yards away. The new $2 million bridge spans six lanes with a wider median and shoulders.
The new Eisaman Road bridge opened in May 2010. Crews demolished the 13-year-old one a month later.
Tom Logan, a Hempfield supervisor whose Logan Family Farms in Hempfield is split by the turnpike, thinks the agency should have had “enough foresight to build a bridge that could last for at least the next 50 years.”
Logan questions the value of the widening project, saying the amount of traffic that passes his farm does not appear to justify the additional lanes or expense.
Martin Pietrucha, director of the Pennsylvania Transportation Institute at Penn State University, said it's easy to question why millions of dollars went down the drain.
“But it's probably not as simple as just saying, ‘What the heck were these knuckleheads thinking?'
“It could have been that someone was asleep at the wheel, but I'd like to think that was not the case and the (widening project) wasn't even a glimmer in someone's eyes when the bridges were originally replaced,” Pietrucha said.
Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Plum school board asks why tip line was removed from student handbook
- $11M gift from Hillman to help CMU attract faculty, support students
- Fans connect with their beloved Pirates through homemade signs
- $9M sought to finish turning Penn Circle in Pittsburgh to two-way streets
- Friends say Baldwin Borough couple in murder-suicide was depressed
- Authorities identify McKeesport man whose body was found in Yough River
- Roads to close on Pittsburgh’s North Side this weekend
- Pittsburgh agencies to weigh renovating Civic Building, relocating
- Panel that oversees Pittsburgh’s finances lacks quorum as deadline to vote on budget nears
- Shell, Center water authority reach agreement on relocating water source
- Newsmaker: Helen Carson