Casey talks up plan to increase bridge funding
Sen. Bob Casey
With Pennsylvania at the front of the pack when it comes to structurally deficient bridges, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey is proposing the amount of federal dollars allocated for “off-system” bridges be increased.
In a conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon, the Pennsylvania Democrat said he introduced legislation, along with Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, that would have states spend more of the transportation dollars that come from Washington, D.C., on bridges outside the federal highway system, most of which are located in rural and suburban areas. The increase, from 15 percent to 25 percent, would be included in the budget bill that is due to be debated in the fall. The increase would bring an additional $25 million to $30 million for bridges.
“Small communities are strapped,” Casey said. “What we’re trying to do is bring these issues to the fore … We just haven’t had the focus on these off-system roads.”
Both Casey and Blunt teamed up last year to increase funding for these bridges, and Pennsylvania received $74 million as a result in the 2013 fiscal year. Though not exactly a miniscule amount, the scale of the problem is considerable – all told, almost 1 in 4 of the 22,000 bridges in Pennsylvania are structurally deficient. Washington County ranks 9th out of the 67 counties in the state with 200 deficient bridges, close to 32 percent of all the county’s bridges.
In essence, the pie isn’t getting larger under the proposal, but it’s being cut in different ways, with a larger slice going to bridges, Casey explained.
The state of the state’s bridges has become a matter of greater urgency in Harrisburg, too. One of Gov. Tom Corbett’s priorities in the months ahead is getting legislative approval of a measure to boost funding for roads, bridges and public transportation. The Senate approved a $2.5-billion bill before lawmakers left the state capital at the end of June, but the House has yet to sign off on it. Weight restrictions were placed on a number of bridges throughout Pennsylvania over the summer.
When asked if it might be better left to individual states to decide how the money is spent, Casey said aged bridges had a “disproportionately big impact” on Pennsylvania, and “if you’re in the business of improving transportation in Pennsylvania and improving safety, you should be in favor of chipping away at the problem.”
Bridges are one component of larger infrastructure woes across the country. This year, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country an overall grade of D-plus on its infrastructure, and some estimates have it that $2.5 trillion would need to be spent to bring the United States’ infrastructure up to speed.
While there’s bipartisan agreement on the problem, Casey said, agreement on solutions are tougher to find.