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Rendell: One-Quarter Of Pa. Bridges 'Structurally Deficient'

Gov. Ed Rendell says nearly one-quarter of the 25,000 state-owned bridges are considered structurally deficient.
/ Source: NBCPhiladelphia.com

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said Thursday nearly one-quarter of the 25,000 state-owned bridges are considered structurally deficient. But he added that they are inspected once a year.

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NBC 10 conducted a survey and asked, "How concerned are you about the safety of local bridges?" Forty-five percent said, "very concerned," 29 percent said "somewhat concerned" and 20 percent are "Not worried at all."

When we think about bridges, we usually thing about water down below. But the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation said the vast majority of highways like Interstate 95 are elevated, and drivers cross a number of them daily.

"It's very scary. Don't think I'm going over a bridge anytime soon," Eileen Vitale, of Northeast Philadelphia, said.

Everyone NBC 10 talked to said they would think twice before driving over a bridge that crosses either water or a city street.

Jean Unger, of Kensington, said she would cross her fingers and hold her breath until she got on the other side of a bridge.

Those were the sentiments of most Philadelphians after watching pieces of the Interstate 35W Bridge fall into the Mississippi River Wednesday. The collapse happened during rush-hour traffic.

"As long as we're not stuck in traffic and moving we'll be OK," Victor Torres, of Feltonville, said.

NBC 10 stopped by the command center at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to find out what inspectors look for when they check out the 2,700 bridges covered by PennDOT.

Charles Davies, of PennDOT, explained the inspection process.

"We look at the quality and condition of the paint. Rust, steel rusted away. If it's a concrete bridge they're looking for condition of the concrete," Davies said.

Davies said bridge inspections are done once every two years and those with weight restrictions are inspected once a year.

The bridges are then rated on a scale of 0 to 9, PennDOT said. A 4 rating usually means weight restrictions or structurally deficient.

In 2005, the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis was rated structurally deficient.

"We have over 600 structural deficient bridges," Davies said.

On that local list, the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge that carries 133,000 vehicles on the Blue Route in Conshohocken; the bridge over Wayne Avenue that carries 118,000 vehicles daily over Roosevelt Boulevard in North Philadelphia; Interstate-76 near University Center also has 118,000 vehicles crossing the Schuylkill River; and a vast majority of Interstate-95 like at Girard Avenue is an elevated highway that 180,000 vehicles use daily.

DRPA Says Bridges Safe

The Ben Franklin Bridge is one of four bridges over the Delaware River operated by the Delaware River Port Authority.

The Walt Whitman, Betsy Ross and Commodore Barry bridges are also maintained by the DRPA.

Officials there said drivers are safe.

They have an in-house engineering staff and maintenance force that can respond to any problems with the bridges.

Also, every year, an independent consultant inspects the inspectors to make sure the job is being done properly.

The DRPA is funded by tolls.

Right now, it says there is enough money to make sure the bridges are safe.

N.J., Del. Differ On Extra Bridge Inspections

New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine has ordered inspections of all 6,400 bridges in the Garden State.

Corzine said it doesn't matter if the bridges are maintained by state, local or federal governments; they're all getting inspected.

In Delaware, state transportation officials said no extra inspections are needed because they're ranked in the top five states nationwide when it comes to bridge maintenance.

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