HARRISBURG – State Transportation Secretary Allen D. Biehler said PennDOT will begin working to make bridge rating information available to the public in an understandable format, but that information should not alter driving habits.
“Governor Rendell is committed to assuring the public that the safety of the state’s 25,000 bridges is not in question and, after consultation with the governor’s chief of staff, I have directed our staff to work on making condition ratings available,” Biehler said.
When it is compiled, the information will be available in a non-technical format and be placed on PennDOT’s Web site where other bridge information is already available.
“Motorists should pay more attention to the weight and lane restrictions posted on relatively few Pennsylvania bridges than to the numbers in these lists,”
Biehler said, “The numbers help our engineers monitor the structures; a low rating does not mean a bridge is unsafe. If there were any unsafe conditions, the bridges would be closed.”
The lists will be compiled as soon as possible, but it will take some time to assemble the data in a user-friendly format. The officials who must work on this are currently focused on managing the re-inspection of 54 steel deck truss bridges, as directed by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“Releasing the rating information does not change the fact that our bridges are safe,” Biehler said. “I can assure you that I will not hesitate to cross a bridge with a low rating. I’m going to use common sense, adhere to the warning signs if bridges are posted and not hesitate to cross any of our bridges that are open to traffic.”
The Federal Highway Administration requires bridges to be inspected at least once every two years and provide a rating from 0 to 9 (with 9 being the best) for three main bridge components: the driving surface, the super-structure supporting the roadway and the sub-structure supporting the bridge. Engineers use these three ratings to determine if weight or lane restrictions are necessary.
“We do not hesitate to restrict or close a bridge when necessary to ensure the public’s safety,” Biehler said.
Pennsylvania has approximately 25,000 state-owned bridges. Nearly 6,000 are considered “structurally deficient,” meaning they are in need of some level of repair. Approximately 800 bridges have weight or lane restrictions and 54 are closed.
In the past four years, Pennsylvania has made significant state investments in our bridges. Last year, PennDOT invested an unprecedented $558 million in 867 bridge projects statewide with $133 million being spent on bridge preservation and the remaining $425 million devoted to rehabilitating and replacing structurally deficient bridges.
“The transportation funding bill signed by Governor Rendell last month is expected to provide an additional $532 million per year over the next 10 years to repair our bridges and roads,” Biehler said.