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Pittsburgh bridge collapse shines light on Pennsylvania’s infrastructure

(The Center Square) – As President Joe Biden highlights billions of dollars in federal funding to improve roads and bridges, an early Friday morning bridge collapse near Pittsburgh is highlighting the commonwealth’s infrastructure needs.

Ahead of Biden’s visit to Pittsburgh on Friday, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg stood alongside Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and other state and local officials two weeks ago in Philadelphia to announce $1.6 billion in federal money to fix 3,353 bridges in the commonwealth that are rated in poor condition.

The bridge funding is part of the broader Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act approved by Congress that will send $26.5 billion to states for bridge work over the next five years.

In Pennsylvania, the $327.2 million in federal funding for the first year will not come close to what Pennsylvania Secretary of Transportation Yassmin Gramian said is an annual $8.1 billion funding gap for needed bridge repairs.

Gramian contends about 200 bridges in Pennsylvania move into the “poor” condition category every year, and despite the influx in federal funding, the Wolf administration is moving forward with plans to toll nine bridges throughout the commonwealth to help cover repair costs.

The backlog on bridge repairs is in addition to more than 7,540 miles of highway rated in poor condition that also is taking a toll on Pennsylvanians who rely on the roadways.

“Since 2011, commute times have increased by 7.6% in Pennsylvania, and on average, each driver pays $620 per year in costs due to driving on roads in need of repair,” according to a White House fact sheet.

The White House document also touts an additional $11.3 billion in the infrastructure law for federal aid highway apportioned programs in Pennsylvania.

Buttigieg pointed to closures of the Martin Luther King Jr. Drive Bridge in Philadelphia as an example of needed repairs in the city, where there’s more than 80 bridges in need of improvements.

Buttigieg also described observing nets under bridges in Pittsburgh to catch falling concrete during tours of the city and explained how fixes will help save on shipping costs, fuel, vehicle maintenance, time and make the structures “more resilient against extreme weather.”

Shortly before 7 a.m. Friday, the collapse of a two-lane bridge in Pittsburgh that is 2 miles from the site of Biden’s scheduled visit, further illustrated the point.

At least 10 people were evaluated for minor injuries at the site, where Forbes Avenue crosses Fern Hollow Creek in Frick Park. Three people were taken to hospitals, though none had critical injuries, The Associated Press reported.

Sam Wasserman, spokesperson for Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, told the news wire an elongated, two-part Port Authority bus was on the bridge when it collapsed.

The city-owned bridge was built in 1970 and a 2005 estimate showed it carries about 14,500 vehicles a day. A September 2019 inspection showed the bridge’s deck and superstructure were in poor condition, which the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation describes as advanced “deterioration of primary structural elements,” according to The AP.

The White House addressed the bridge collapse in a statement confirming the president plans to proceed with his trip to Carnegie Mellon University for remarks Friday afternoon.

“Our team is in touch with state and local officials on the ground as they continue to gather information about the cause of the collapse,” the statement said. “The President is grateful to the first responders who rushed to assist the drivers who were on the bridge at the time.”

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