State ahead of schedule on bridge project

More than ten years ago, nearly a quarter of all bridges in Pennsylvania were labeled as being in poor condition, requiring major renovations.

Specifically, in the counties of Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland, out of the 2,350 bridges in the region, 740 of them were flagged for repair. With an estimation of more than 25 years’ worth of work required to repair the numerous bridges, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation got to work.

According to District 12 Executive Joseph Szczur, reallocation of money was required to complete the massive, state-wide bridge service project.

“What we did back in [Governor Ed Rendell’s] administration… we had to reissue $375 million of bonds state wide to help get this program started,” Szczur said. “Then since, here in the [region]… we had to change our investment strategy back into asset management. Particularly, what we are going to do to maintain our roads.”

With a project as big as repairing nearly a quarter of all bridges in the state, Szczur said it’s a monetary balancing act between bridge- and road-upkeep.

“There is only so much money,” Szczur said. “More money is spent on bridges [then] less money there is to maintain your roads. But you have to make a decision, when you have a road that is bumpy and in need of repair, we can keep it serviceable – but when you have a bridge that needs to be closed, then you are affecting people’s qualities of life.”

According to Szczur, the bridges that were inspected in the region ranged between 20 feet in length and more than 2,000 feet. Szczur said inspection for bridges range on a yearly or biannual basis and is categorized into three different classifications to help determine which bridges should be prioritized for repair.

“We have a very detailed bridge inspection program that categorizes things in a specific manner,” Szczur said. “They are either poor, fair or [rated] good.”

Generally, Szczur said the national average is to have 10 percent of bridges fall under the ‘poor’ category.

In the Greene County area, particularly, Szczur said noticeable progress has been made toward bridge repair: nearly a 10 percent difference.

“[In Greene County] we had back in 2009, which is as far back as our records will go, we had 398 bridges… 106 of those were rated poor [in] structurally deficient condition,” Szczur said. “That is about 26.6 percent to be technical and then today, as of January this year, we had only 70 that were in that category.”

The progress made both in the region and across the state towards acquiring a 10 percent average of deficient bridges—which is considered normal—will be accomplished around 2022, according to Szczur. From the original timeframe that was given, Szczur said the initiative is roughly 10 years ahead of schedule.

“When we had looked at this back in the early to mid 2000s, collectively based on how much money we anticipated being able to invest… we had targeted the year 2030 [as a finish date],” Szczur said. “Then, [that year] was modified a year or two later to 2033. Collectively, state wide, we would be at the national average [of 10 percent] so we’re going to be able to be there maybe a decade before that.”

In what Szczur described as an ‘on going challenge,’ a mission to repair more than a quarter of bridges across the state, significant progress has been accomplished.