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PennDOT pares list of structurally deficient bridges

Patrick Varine
| Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017, 8:39 p.m.
The bridge spanning Sewickley Creek on Mt. Pleasant Road on Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017, in Mt. Pleasant Township. PennDOT is planning work to replace the bridge beginning Dec. 4. The work is expected to be finish in May. Temporary traffic signals will be put in place to direct traffic.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
The bridge spanning Sewickley Creek on Mt. Pleasant Road on Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017, in Mt. Pleasant Township. PennDOT is planning work to replace the bridge beginning Dec. 4. The work is expected to be finish in May. Temporary traffic signals will be put in place to direct traffic.

As far back as the early years of the Gov. Ed Rendell administration, PennDOT District 12 Executive Joseph Szczur “knew we had a tidal wave of bad bridges coming our way.”

Szczur was referring to state-owned bridges rated as structurally deficient, a number that hovered around 25 percent in 2003, according to data compiled by The Road Information Program, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit.

But with a decade-plus of varying efforts — including a statewide major bridge replacement program and an $899 million public-private partnership — Szczur said that figure is poised to fall by 2022 to 10 percent, which is the national average.

“We didn't always take care of our bridges properly,” he said. “In our neck of the woods, we have a very old infrastructure. A lot of the roads on our mountainous terrain were built on the paths that settlers used.”

In 2004 and 2005, former Gov. Ed Rendell challenged PennDOT officials to address the problem and supported a $375 million accelerated bridge program, which ultimately addressed about 1,700 bridges statewide, Szczur said,

“That was a good start,” he said.

As work has progressed locally over the years, a list of 15 major bridges (defined as 500 feet or longer) has been whittled down to three. In Westmoreland County, just under 16 percent of 734 bridges are still rated structurally deficient, according to the most recent state figures.

“Back in 2005, we had a strategy to address 740 of 2,350 bridges that were in need of major rehab or replacement,” Szczur said. “We're now down to 390. That's good news, but there's still a lot.”

PennDOT originally set 2030 as the target to reach the nationwide structurally deficient average of 10 percent.

“We challenged our department to do at least three smaller-span bridges each year,” Szczur said. “So far, we've done 90 of those.”

A good chunk of the work — 560 bridges — are part of the Pennsylvania Rapid Bridge Replacement project, a public-private partnership that has completed 11 of 21 projects in Westmoreland County as well as 370 of 560 statewide as of November, according to partnership spokesman Jeff Rossi.

“We still intend to complete the project by the end of 2018,” Rossi said.

In the next year, 83 more bridges are scheduled for completion through the partnership, Szczur said. PennDOT programs are in place to address both the largest and smallest bridges, and other spans will be addressed through the state's annual capital improvement program.

“It's a continuing challenge,” Szczur said.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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