State transportation officials took to Facebook Live on Friday to answer questions and assuage residents’ fears about the condition of Pennsylvania’s more than 25,000 state and locally owned bridges.
The briefing comes a week after 10 people were injured in the collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge in Pittsburgh just hours ahead of President Joe Biden’s visit to the area to tout the newly passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Pennsylvania is slated to receive $1.6 billion over the next five years for bridge repairs as part of the new law.
Two Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials – acting Executive Deputy Secretary Melissa Batula and acting Deputy Secretary for Highway Administration Mike Keiser assured viewers that PennDOT is taking appropriate action to repair and maintain the bridges under their purview with the funding available to them.
“The public should be assured that we are doing everything we can to make sure our bridges are safe,” Keiser said.
Batula added that PennDOT conducts 18,000 inspections of bridges under its oversight each year. All bridges are inspected every two years, she said, including 25,400 state-owned and 6,600 locally-owned bridges.
Taking questions about the rating scale used to categorize the state’s bridges, Batula explained that Pennsylvania uses a 9-0 scale rating.
Under the scale-rating system, bridges rated:
9-7 are in the “good” condition category,
6-5 are in the “fair” condition category,
And bridges rated four and under are in the “poor” condition category.
Batula cautioned that a bridge falling into the “poor” category does not necessarily mean the bridge is dangerous.
The ratings, she said, “are only used to generally categorize bridge conditions. We do have a very rigorous process in place to evaluate those bridges.”
Batula said that there are more than 2,400 bridges in poor condition in the commonwealth today, compared to 6,000 in 2008, adding that it has been a challenge to repair all of the state’s deteriorating bridges with a gap between the cost of needed repairs and the funding available to the department for such projects.
Pennsylvania is an “old state with an old infrastructure,” Batula said, adding that the average lifespan for bridges is between 50 and 75 years, depending on materials, maintenance, traffic volumes, and other factors.
That’s why, Batula said, the department is “thankful” for the $1.6 billion in federal funding being allocated to Pennsylvania’s bridges, some of which have been in operation since the mid-1960s.
Batula said that PennDot is “working with planning partners across the state” to figure out how best to use the dollars and identify which projects it should “prioritize.”
“We’re just trying to put our dollars where the most critical needs are,” Keiser said.