Conklin, Casey speak in favor of Pennsylvania transportation funding

Pennsylvania leads the nation in structurally deficient bridges, and the problem only seems to be getting worse.

State Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, said it’s a matter of time before one of the 5,543 structurally deficient bridges in the state fails and people are injured.

“We’ve been kicking this can down the road too long,” he said. “It’s time to get serious.”

He is disappointed that no major transportation bill was brought before the House in the last session, and he is hopeful but not optimistic something can get done in the next legislative session.

Earlier this year, Conklin proposed a multi-bill package that would increase revenue for transportation infrastructure through a natural gas severance fee and a business tax policy called combined reporting.

Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch spoke before the Senate Transportation Committee on Wednesday, warning against inaction on infrastructure funding. He said another 1,000 more bridges could be weight-limited to avoid further deterioration.

“It’s time to act,” Schoch told senators. “If we don’t, the consequences keep getting worse.”

In Centre County, 66 of the 355 bridges have been ruled structurally deficient — a total of 18.6 percent. One of those, over Spring Creek in Houserville, just reopened after months of work, but it’s still structurally deficient and can’t sustain heavy weights over time.

But help could come from Congress.

Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey has voiced support for the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill, which would give some federal aid to the state to help fix the problems.

“Passage of this bill is important for our state’s ailing bridges and our roads, and I’ll be urging Congress to pass this legislation this year,” Casey said in a news release.

Conklin said help from the federal government in transportation funding would be huge because there are many major interstate highways in Pennsylvania that need work, and it would help free up money for the General Assembly to use on state routes and other streets.

Traveling in both the western and eastern parts of the state in the past 10 days, Conklin said he has run into many signs that weight limit bridges or alter routes through detours.

“It’s more of a common sight than ever before,” he said.

He added that improving roads and bridges will help attract more businesses throughout the state and facilitate more traffic to existing business.

State Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, and state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, have also both spoken in favor of legislation calling for transportation infrastructure reform. Neither could be reached for this report.