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Casey tries to tilt funds to local bridges

| Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, 11:34 p.m.

Sen. Bob Casey said on Thursday that he will introduce a bill to force states to allocate a larger portion of their federal highway dollars to bridges owned by counties and municipalities.

Under Casey's plan, Pennsylvania and other states would have to set aside 25 percent of federal transportation funds for bridges in that category. A Casey-backed amendment approved for fiscal year 2013 forces the state to allocate 15 percent, or about $74 million, to county and municipal bridges.

“We've got a major problem with infrastructure across the country. Pennsylvania is ranked No. 1 in the number of structurally deficient bridges,” Casey said.

PennDOT spokesman Steve Chizmar said the agency appreciates Casey's attention to transportation funding.

“At first read, (the bill) forces us to put a larger portion of our federal money into locally owned bridges,” Chizmar said. “Unfortunately, it appears there's no additional revenue generated through this.”

Casey said small communities and counties are particularly strapped for cash and can't afford to fix many of their aging bridges. He acknowledged that many bridges on the interstate system need to be fixed but said the problem with locally owned bridges “cries out for more focus and more dollars targeted there.”

“I just think it's been neglected for too long,” Casey said.

He wouldn't criticize PennDOT's prioritization of repairs, saying only that government at the state and local levels lacks funding.

Allegheny County has the second-highest number of locally owned bridges in the state – 343 – following only Lancaster County, which has 415, according to Casey's data. There are more than 1,200 bridges in Allegheny County, and nearly 25 percent are structurally deficient.

Amie Downs, a spokeswoman for County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, said he would review the proposal before commenting.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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