SCRANTON — Forty-four percent of bridges in Luzerne County are structurally deficit or non-functioning.
In Lackawanna County, 39 percent are in the same category; in Wyoming County, around 38 percent.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey called attention to the problem on Friday, citing statistics for various counties and for the state, which he said leads the nation in structurally deficient bridges with 5,218.
That amounts to a quarter of all bridges in the state.
“Pennsylvania is number one in a category we don’t want to be number one in,” Casey said from behind a podium set up by one of those deficient structures, the Elm Street bridge, which spans the Lackawanna River that borders South and West Scranton.
Casey, D-Scranton, joined by local business leaders, called the news conference to call attention to the safety issue and say he was working for more federal funding to repair or replace the bridges.
He said he wrote to Sen. Barbara Boxer, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and Sen. David Vitter, a ranking committee member, calling for more transportation funding for Pennsylvania to fix the problem.
“Literally, millions of trips every day are taken over structurally deficient bridges,” Casey told the media and a few residents who stopped to hear the senator.
“We’ve got to fight very hard for these dollars,” he added.
Bob Durkin, president and CEO of The Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce, said transportation in general and safe bridges are critical.
Besides public safety, safe structures are important economically.
“It’s critical we think about this as part of economic development,” Durkin said. “It’s one of the most critical issues of economic development.”
Steve Pitoniak, transportation planning manager for the Lackawanna County Regional Planning Commission, said that in the late 1950s and the 1960s, the region saw some serious upgrading of its roads and bridges. But the life span of bridges is about 50 years before they must be rehabilitated, he said.
“We put a lot into infrastructure, but not in rehabilitation of deficient bridges,” Pitoniak said.
He said while the state’s Act 89, which will provide funding for statewide road and bridge repairs and replacements, would help, it is not enough.
West Scranton resident and Dunmore native David Petriello asked if there was any way for leaders to think outside the box to raise funding for the bridge work.
“There’s got to be a different way than always going to the federal government,” said Petriello, who was on his way to go fly fishing in the nearby river when he stopped by the news conference.
Before the news conference, Casey released a county by county list of bridges deemed structurally deficient or functionally obsolete throughout Pennsylvania. The list shows Luzerne County has 441 bridges, with 121 of them structurally deficient and another 75 functionally obsolete. That puts the county 21st for number of deficient bridges.