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Structure for discrimination against bridges upheld by state

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Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013

The problem is shameful, and addressing it could save Pennsylvania billions of dollars.

So why isn't anyone doing something to combat bridge discrimination?

The question is particularly vexing here in the Keystone State, which has more than 25,000 state-owned bridges — the third-highest total in the nation. Perhaps it's because they are stationary and can't make it to meetings to discuss forming an advocacy group.

They could use one, though. Bridges need someone to champion their cause, especially after the discriminatory din against them hit its zenith recently in the General Assembly's chambers.

Legislators debated a measure that would have provided at least $2.5 billion annually to combat a so-called infrastructure crisis. According to lawmakers and their deleterious allies at PennDOT, the crisis' primary culprit was — you guessed it — bridges.

The spans could be forgiven if they busted a few rivets in anger. The prejudicial pejoratives hurled their way were despicable:

• Without any compunction, lawmakers criticized the bridges as being too old, because more than half are over age 50.

• They humiliated the bridges for poor physical shape, noting that many are subject to weight restrictions.

• They used a deplorable term that I am repeating here not for sensationalistic purposes or shock value, but to underscore the depth of the discrimination. Particularly sensitive readers might want to skip this sentence: Lawmakers noted that Pennsylvania has the highest number of bridges that are “structurally deficient.”

I long for day when epithets like that no longer are used. Unfortunately, we have a long way to go as a society before that occurs.

Can you imagine anyone making the same insulting observations about older people? Can you imagine hearing:

• “We can't keep putting off the problems with Sylvia. She's over 50 years old, showing obvious signs of deterioration, and we're not sure how much longer she'll be able to remain standing.”

• “Look at Phil, huffing and puffing going up the stairs. He really needs to start watching all the weight he's carrying around on his frame.”

• “You say you need a knee replacement soon or you might come crashing down at some point? Goodness, Mrs. Johnson, you're structurally deficient.”

Any legislator foolish enough to speak so callously to a senior citizen would justifiably incur the wrath of the AARP. The same standards should exist for our bridges.

If we treated them with courtesy and compassion, rather than scorn and derision, think what might happen. If the discriminatory labels vanish — voila! — so does the infrastructure crisis.

We need billions of dollars to fix bridges that are “structurally upright.” We need to spend far less on those that are more kindly labeled “functionally upright.”

Eric Heyl is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7857 or

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