A Bridge To Nowhere

My home state of Pennsylvania is a very old state. It is certainly not unique in that regard – there are other ancient states in the United States – but in fact a lot of stuff we use each day here is quite…old.

Pennsylvania has the third-highest number of bridges in the country. For as long as I’ve been alive, the subject of its aging bridges has been at the top of the planning agenda each year when the Commonwealth’s Department of Transportation reviews what structures need immediate attention, reshuffling the priority deck based on traffic flow, the repairs needed, etc. to best determine where repair crews should head next.

And of course…as long as there is money in the budget.

And of course…if one of our major cities is involved, whether or not some or all of the funds should come from the city or state budget…if the money is even available.

This topic will be staying atop PennDOT’s agenda for a long, long, l-o-n-g time…at least as long as some of these bridges have been in existence…bridges people drive across daily. Pennsylvania has as of this writing north of 25,000 state-owned bridges. There are almost 7,000 locally-owned bridges which the PA Department of Transportation also takes inspection responsibility for. Many of the bridges are of modest size, helping drivers get across small streams and rivers, but when they are shut down or closed…traffic Armageddon can be the result.

Several years ago, a plan began where vehicle owners were required to pay an additional charge when their annual Pennsylvania vehicle registrations came due. It was explained at that time the plan was to help fund bridge repairs and reconstruction within the County you resided within. The funds being generated would be for bridges deemed as “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete.”

It should be noted we’ve been assured by our transportation experts these classifications don’t mean the bridges can’t support traffic. Ok, but…I don’t know about you but the use of “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete” works much better for me when we’re talking Jenga or Legos instead of supporting structures for cars or trucks.

The life span of the bridges is generally considered to be 50 years. Five years ago, of the 95 bridges reported to be in existence in our Chester County at that time, 57 of them were over 75 years old…31 over 100 years old.

Chester County has been trying to keep a goal of restoring or replacing at least a couple of bridges per year. Two. Since 1980, there were twelve years where no bridge work was done in the County at all.

I don’t think we’re gonna get caught up, folks.

Recently, one of the smallest bridges in Chester County was deemed unsuitable for traffic and taken out of commission completely…in our neighborhood.

Without getting out my tape measure, I’m thinking the bridge area stretches about 75 feet long, designed for two-way traffic just off an intersection which gets high volume usage. It lies just a short distance from two major highways.

Hurricane Ida, which did take out a handful of the state’s bridges completely, was the reason for our local bridge being taken off-line as well. (Side note – I think some people relax when they hear a Hurricane has been downgraded. That’s for the wind. The moisture and its fury is often a bigger culprit, at least in our region) The Ida damage took place in early September, 2021. The structure has since been judged to need a total replacement. If all goes well, the current estimate is the new bridge will be completed…in March, 2023.

Unless of course, other bridges deemed more critical to traffic flow become unable to be used in the interim. Unless of course, the money isn’t there, no matter whose budget gets tapped into.

You may have heard about a bridge collapse in Western PA in January of this year. Pittsburgh made headlines when the Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed with a bus and several cars on it. Since then, there have been calls for more information to be provided to the Commonwealth’s residents as to the current condition of each and every bridge in the state. The goal would be to have a database for all to reference. As it turns out, the state was previously displaying inspection notes about bridges on its website, as well as names of the inspectors involved…but when the Pittsburgh media began asking questions about this information post-Fern Hollow, the information was taken down. Hmm.

So we’ve got it all now, the perfect storm of too many bridges that need help, not enough money to address all the work needed, and uncertainty as to whether or not our current inspection system is actually, truly keeping the citizens of the Commonwealth safe.

As for the arrival of that new bridge our area needs to return to normal…we’ll cross that bridge when they get to it.


Picture Courtesy iStock

17 thoughts on “A Bridge To Nowhere”

  1. Everything is aging…too rapidly! I know they have…oh, what are they called…oh, GoFundMe sites for people, maybe some of these bridges need their own GOFUNDME pages where people can donate. Also, maybe volunteers could help put in a little elbow grease. I dunno. All I know is that most governments spend way too much, people take advantage of getting government contracts (charge way too much) and it’s crazy trying to make ends meet on just a regular day! Good post! Mona

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mona, we had a really-small and locally-owned bridge that needed repairs a few years ago, and one of the nearby businesses involved in stone work (and a business which was also suffering by that bridge being out) donated their people and resources to get that bridge back up and running long before any governing entity would have done the work. Maybe we will see a movement now towards looking for similar solutions where they can be implemented.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We have covered bridges in Maine but not nearly as many. I always hate to see them fall into disrepair. I like Mona’s idea of private community funded campaigns. Wonder if that could work….

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I just replied to Mona about a local bridge that went down a few years ago. A stone mason business, which was suffering from the bridge being out of service, donated time, material and resources to make the necessary repairs and got it back on-line long before local or state entities would have. We may very well need to take matters into our own hands where resources exist to do so.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. My wife and I were talking to a seller at a roadside produce stand earlier today about how much we enjoy shoo fly pie. That’s so funny, because I probably haven’t had it for at least two years now, and today between talking to him and seeing your comment I’ve heard about it twice in one day. With Vanilla ice cream? Yes, please…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Tourists flock to covered bridges. As tourists in Vermont we drove around looking for a bunch of them using a copy of a poorly hand drawn map given to us by the clerk at a tiny post office. We never did find one of them, which I found out online later was no longer in use, but rather sitting in a field somewhere awaiting repairs. Anyway the point being if there’s enough covered bridges within an easily drivable area perhaps guided covered bridge tours might be a creative way to raise money to fix them if your town cared to organize such a thing. Even the out-of-service one in your photo would make a good photo op for tourists. Structurally sound or not it actually looks better than some of the ones we saw in Vermont. Or for an option easier than guided tours, the visitor’s center could make a good map showing a route to take around them and some info about each one, which they could sell for a nominal fee dedicated to bridge maintenance and repair. If fees for that sort of thing aren’t allowed call it a donation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lois, good ideas all. A lot of tourist-related info Pennsylvania promotes includes the quaintness of our covered bridges. I think those of us who live in and around them appreciate these structures as special even if we drive over them every day. As you suggest, there now needs to be out-of-the box solutions attempted…if our local, city, and state governments can’t get ahead of this situation.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Remember when our teachers used to tell us about daily life in The Soviet Union? You’re probably too young to remember that Russia was once part of a country called The Soviet Union. Anyway, we read about crumbling and poorly built infrastructure, long waits for lackluster healthcare, shortages of consumer goods, etc. and these lessons were supposed to inculcate a love of capitalism and an abhorrence of communism. Somewhere along the way, capitalism got carried away with itself and we wound up with a standard of living that more and more resembles those newsreels. The lights over my P.O. box burned out one after another until I had to feel my way to the key hole. When I complained, I was told that the bureaucracy of that institution required that light bulbs be requisitioned from god and that it took time for the request to reach sympathetic ears. I think they had to send the requisition to the Kremlin.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. One of the covered bridges along my biking route here in Lancaster was out for about nine months and I was bereft. The bipartisan infrastructure law should help. 🤞

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That law should help, Pam. Sorry to hear about the bike route and how long it lasted. This mini-bridge down here (between Downingtown-Coatesville) shouldn’t take 16 months to fix – a bunch of red tape and processes to navigate.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Nevada shares with Arizona a well-known bridge: the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. It spans the Colorado River just downstream from Hoover Dam, which is why we generally just refer to it as the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge. Anyway, it’s a true marvel of construction! The vast majority of bridges in Nevada are simply part of highway interchanges, but we do have a few short bridges that span desert arroyos.

    Liked by 1 person

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