We Have Come to that Bridge

The title is based on the old adage “We will cross that bridge when we come to it”.

Well, we have finally reached that bridge. The bridge being the poor condition of the local spans. Spans that we all knew were not in the best of condition, but we still use them everyday. Perhaps no region of the country depends on its bridges more than western Pennsylvania. But the tragic collapse in Minneapolis has opened all our eyes to just how unstable our bridge situation has become.

I spoke the PennDot executive director Dan Cessna yesterday – and he pained a picture for me that is – at the very least – unsettling. Over 500 bridges in this region are considered “structurally deficient” – meaning they can be used and they are considered safe, but they could be in better shape. That was the same rating given to the bridge in Minneapolis before it went crashing into the Mississippi.

So what do you do? Repair those deficient bridges? Sounds like a good plan, if you had an extra billion dollars or more. Money is the issue for PennDot and may ultimately be the issue when it comes to keeping bridges up and operating. The cost of repairing these spans would be in the billions and I don’t know if taxpayers will bite the bullet once the fervor over the collapse is over.

This bridge accident has just served to remind us that while western Pennsylvania is growing and chaning, our infrastructure is at great risk. We have old bridges, roads in need of repair as well as a mess when it comes to our limited public transportation. We face major decisions as a region about what kind of place we want to live in and what deserves our attention when it comes to investing money and raising taxes.

We have indeed reached that bridge — as a region. Now, we must decide not if we want to cross but how we should go about crossing it.

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