MOOSIC — Susan Jones remembers the day that the bridge in front of her store, Delia’s Gift Shop, was closed.
The bridge has been closed since April 8, 2011. Jones said bridge closure made business hard to come buy — some customers have asked if she’s still open.
“We’re keeping our head above water,” Jones said.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, said improving infrastructure is vital to the economy. On Friday he held a news conference at the closed on Main Street bridge in front of Jones’ store to publicize his push for passage of a measure that will keep the highway trust fund solvent through the end of the year.
Casey was joined by Bob Durkin, president of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce, and Alan Baranski, vice president of the Transportation Planning Service division for NEPA Alliance.
Jackie Bower, co-owner of the nearby Bloomin’ Idiots Garden Center, was at the news conference. Like Jones, Bower said her business has been hurt — she said her business took a 45-percent hit thanks to reduced traffic.
State Reps. Sid Kavulich, D-Taylor, and Mike Carroll, D-Avoca, were also in attendance alongside members of Moosic’s Borough Council and the public.
“If we don’t have action taken, we will have the transportation equivalent of a government shutdown,” Casey said.
$1.5 billion in Pa.
Casey said $1.5 billion in federal funds go toward transportation projects in Pennsylvania.
For example, the Main Street bridge construction project is funded with 80 percent federal funds and 20 percent state funds. The nearly 60-year-old bridge has been closed for three-plus years due to serious failures in several of its beams. A news release from Casey’s office said the bridge typically carried approximately 17,000 vehicles a day when it was open.
Another bridge just down the road from the one closed on Main Street will also be closed. The bridge on Lonesome Road in Moosic was originally planned to be closed in June, but PennDOT will examine whether the Main Street bridge nearby could be reopened to allow ambulances, fire trucks and other emergency vehicles into the neighborhood in case of an emergency.
An update on Moosic’s website sheds light on that analysis.
“Unfortunately, the results showed that this option was not feasible due to serious safety concerns with this bridge,” the site states.
Instead, crews have opted to bring in a temporary bridge to place on top of the Main Street bridge for emergency responders. The bridge is expected to be installed by the end of July.
What happens at the federal level will have an impact on the fate of the bridge, according to Casey. Action could also determine how quickly the state can respond to the 5,543 structurally deficient bridges in the state.
“That’s the kind of first-place finish that Pennsylvania doesn’t want,” Casey said, adding that the state ranks first in the country with the number of structurally deficient bridges. “Even with a federal transportation bill passed … we’re just at the beginning of climbing out of that hole in terms of the number of structurally deficient bridges.”
According to data from the National Bridge Inventory, Luzerne County has a total of 445 bridges, 22 of which are structurally deficient. Lackawanna County has 355 bridges, 14 of which are structurally deficient.
Durkin said structurally sound bridges and roads are “critical to the basic operations of every single business that we have, but its also basic to our quality of life.”
Casey said he hopes that a vote will happen in the next week in the Senate, and while he preferred a long-term resolution, he said a short-term one would work for now.
PennDOT spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt said the transportation system overhaul signed by Gov. Tom Corbett, otherwise known as Act 89, has prevented any projects from being delayed. While she said federal action is needed to ensure the trust does not run out, she said PennDOT could “weather the impasse” through the end of the year.
Jones and Bower each said they will continue to forge on and rely on long-time customers. Bower said the 45-percent cut in business was when the first bridge closed — when the second bridge closes, she was not sure what will happen to her business.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen until it actually closes and we weigh all our options,” she said.