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PA Auditor General Calls For Bridge And Highway Spending

Auditor General Jack Wagner has renewed his call for Governor Tom Corbett and the General Assembly to expand funding for comprehensive transportation and infrastructure repairs. Wagner hints that there is more crumbling infrastructure than there is fast food in the state.

"We have [almost] 6,000 structurally deficient bridges. You will pass structurally deficient bridges or drive over structurally deficient bridges ten times more than you will see a McDonald's restaurant," said Wagner.

Wagner pointed to the Mulberry Street Bridge in Harrisburg to make his point. Its deficiencies include a deteriorated deck and cracks in the facades of the concrete support arches. What might be most alarming to Wagner is a nylon net placed underneath the bridge in 2008 to prevent loose concrete from falling on traffic on the street underneath.

According to PennDOT, while there are plans to repair the Mulberry Bridge, no start date has been planned due to limited funding.

Wagner said the Governor's special task force on transportation suggested several new revenue streams. Wagner broached one divisive measure: increasing oil taxes and thus increasing the price of gasoline within the state. Wagner believes paying more at the pump is worth the improvements that will be seen down the road.

"The simple fact remains: are we going to pay so much now or pay much more later to address our infrastructure needs," Wagner said. "One fourth of our bridges are structurally deficient, and if you let this problem continue, five years from now it will be one half of our bridges that are structurally deficient."

The worst-case scenario for any of the structurally deficient bridge would be for it to collapse. Just such a scenario played out in 2007 when the I-35W Bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, killing 13 people and injuring another 45.

Wagner said many of the bridges in Pennsylvania are of a similar design and bridge repairs cannot be put off any longer.

"First and foremost, to make sure that our transportation system is safe, and there is no loss of life. But more importantly to do the right thing to invest in our own infrastructure, to create jobs, and to also get our economy moving," Wagner said.