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National database shows Pennsylvania bridges are in bad shape

There are certainly a lot of bad drivers here in Pennsylvania, but they may not be the biggest danger on our roads. In fact, the biggest danger may be the roads themselves - or bridges, to be more exact. While bridge collapses are not nearly as common as motor vehicle accidents, they do happen, and they are almost always devastating.

So why is Pennsylvania in danger? The Associated Press recently did its own analysis of the 607,380 bridges listed on the federal National Bridge Inventory. The analysis focused on bridges deemed "structurally deficient," "fracture critical" or both. Pennsylvania is one of just four states with more than 600 bridges meeting both classifications.

Bridges are deemed "structurally deficient when they have at least one major component in bad enough shape that the bridge is in need of replacement or rehabilitation. On the other hand, "fracture critical" is used to describe bridges that don't have redundant safety protections. In other words, the whole bridge may collapse if just one vital component fails.

There are 7,795 bridges in the United States that have this double classification. And together they carry more than 29 million drivers a day in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Bridges with a double classification aren't necessarily doomed to collapse, but they do pose a risk.

Because Pennsylvania has so many bridges in such poor condition, perhaps its time for all of us to make repair and replacement of these dangerous structures a statewide priority. Even though budgets are tight across the country, we must ask ourselves: is this an issue we can afford to ignore?

Source:, "10 Things: Making sense of nation's bad bridges," Mike Baker and Joan Lowy, Sept. 16, 2013

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