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Rendell assails 'dangerous' Pennsylvania bridges

| Friday, Aug. 6, 2010

Pennsylvania has 5,646 bridges deemed structurally deficient, 209 in Westmoreland County alone.

Gov. Ed Rendell wants to see those numbers trimmed. He brought his message Thursday to Manor, which is served by Brush Creek Bridge, an 89-year old structure in need of $1.75 million in repairs to get it in "fair" condition.

"Unless we come up with more money, this bridge is not going to be repaired," Rendell said. "How long are we going to let these conditions exist• They're dangerous. If we don't do something about finding the money to do the repairs of our bridges, our roads, our highways, our mass transit systems, they're either going to become more and more dangerous or we're going to have to stop traffic from going over these bridges."

And it's not just bridges. More than 7,000 miles of state roads are considered in poor condition, including 266 miles in Westmoreland County.

Yesterday's event, attended by more than 100 people, was one of 20 stops planned by the governor over a four-day tour of the state that concludes today. He's calling for state legislators to return to Harrisburg for a special session Aug. 23 to deal with transportation funding. Lawmakers are on summer break and not expected to return to the capital until Sept. 20.

In May, the state Transportation Advisory Commission issued a report estimating Pennsylvania is short $3.5 billion a year in making investments to keep highways, bridges and transit in a state of good repair. The governor would like at least to have legislators approve $472 million a year in funding to offset an anticipated revenue shortfall that's the result of a failed proposal to impose tolls on Interstate 80.

Rendell shared ideas on how to generate funding -- such as an oil company excess profit tax that he said could generate $800 million. He also suggested fee increases for motor vehicle licenses or a hike in the gas tax, which was last raised in 1998. The increase, he said, could generate nearly $600 million.

"If you raise the gas tax 3 1/2 cents, you will never see that at the pump, because the majority of what you pay at the pump isn't taxes," Rendell said. "Nobody likes to pay more, I understand, but what's the alternative• No jobs, no economic vitality, no investment, no improvement in things that are becoming very unsafe."

Matt Wilson of Irwin was hoping to hear a viable alternative to the I-80 plan and didn't feel that he did.

"It sounds like there was no Plan B put in place," Wilson said. "It's a lame-duck governor trying to exit on a positive note. That bridge right there doesn't look any different than it did eight years ago."

Chip Rowan, vice president of New Stanton-based C H & D Enterprises, agreed with the governor's quest.

"The problem is apparent. You can see it as you drive on the roads," Rowan said. "No one likes more taxes, but somehow you have to pay for it."

Some state legislators did speak out against the governor's bus tour, including Republicans Sen. Kim Ward of Hempfield and Rep. Tim Krieger of Delmont.

"I would appreciate the governor's efforts to highlight the need for transportation funding if I believed that his concern was sincere," Krieger said in a news release. "Where has he been for eight years?"

Ward called for Rendell to pledge his Redevelopment and Capital Assistance Program dollars toward transportation projects. "Instead of reaching into our pockets, he should first empty his and pledge his discretionary capital dollars to plug the transportation gap," Ward said.

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