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Rendell says PA. bridges safe

| Friday, Aug. 3, 2007

HARRISBURG -- Pennsylvania has at least 30 truss bridges like the one that collapsed in Minnesota, but Gov. Ed Rendell said Thursday he is not ordering any special inspections or other precautions before the cause of the tragedy is determined.

Rendell said he would order prompt inspections of the truss bridges if it turns out that structural problems caused the bridge to collapse on Wednesday, but noted that other factors, including construction work that was in progress, will also be considered by federal investigators.

"There's no way to prejudge it," the governor said in conference call with reporters.

Of the 14,868 state-owned bridges in Pennsylvania that are longer than 20 feet, about one-quarter are considered structurally deficient. No other state has more or a larger percentage of major bridges in that category, according to a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation analysis of federal statistics compiled in December.

Only Texas, with more than 32,000 state-owned major bridges, and North Carolina, with nearly 17,000, had more than Pennsylvania as of the end of last year, according to PennDOT.

Structurally deficient bridges in Pennsylvania are inspected at least once a year -- and more often for those in the worst shape. The other bridges are inspected every other year, Rendell said.

When bridges are judged to be unsafe, "we don't hesitate to close them," he said.

In 2005, a structurally deficient overpass collapsed onto Interstate 70 in Washington, Pa., injuring three people when their vehicle crashed into the fallen concrete. State transportation officials said the 60-ton girder broke at a point where it had been hit repeatedly by trucks that were too high to pass under it.

Rendell said he believes Pennsylvania's highway system is safe.

"I think people can drive the interstates, go over the bridges, with a reasonable degree of confidence," he said.

A newly signed state law is designed to generate more than $500 million a year more for highway and bridge work over the next decade and more than $400 million a year for cash-strapped mass transit agencies. The money is to come from higher tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and planned new tolls on Interstate 80.

Rendell and Sen. Bob Casey, both Democrats, said the Minnesota collapse underscores the need for increased federal funding for state transportation programs.

"Previous congresses and the president have not provided the funding necessary to meet our transportation needs," said Casey, D-Pa.

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