When an eight-lane bridge carrying Interstate 35 over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed in 2007, killing 13 people, federal and state officials took a closer look at aging infrastructure.
Structurally deficient and poor condition bridges were found everywhere across the United States. Engineers knew it, and after the Minneapolis disaster, there was a new urgency to fund the repair of these bridges.
Pennsylvania has made progress.
“There are currently 2,433 state-owned bridges in poor condition in Pennsylvania, down from a high of over 6,000 in 2008,” Alexis Campbell, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), told The Epoch Times.
Pennsylvania, which has a total of more than 25,400 state-owned bridges, will receive $1.6 billion from the federal infrastructure bill for bridge projects.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was in Philadelphia on Jan. 14 to announce the Keystone State’s sizable cut of the largest investment ever made toward fixing bridges—that is, $26.5 billion to states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico over five years, and $825 million for Tribal Transportation Facilities.
In fiscal year 2022, $5.3 billion will be available to states along with $165 million for tribes.
“The bridge formula program that we’re launching today is the largest dedicated highway bridge investment since the construction of the Interstate Highway System itself,” Buttigieg said at a press conference under the closed-for-repairs Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge. “Reflecting this administration’s commitment to regional equity, it also includes an incentive for funds to be used to repair what we call ‘off-system bridges,’ which are primarily owned by local governments and sometimes the last to see support. We see these in rural areas as well as in our biggest cities.
“So for these off-system bridges, we’re going to move past the traditional 80/20 federal-local split, and cover 100 percent of costs.”
Gov. Tom Wolf, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans (D-Pa.), and state Secretary of Transportation Yassmin Gramian all expressed gratitude for the funding.
Gramian said PennDOT has an $8.1 billion funding gap on an annual basis.
“We are extremely grateful for the additional funds that we are receiving from the federal government,” Gramian said during the press conference. “The last time that we saw an increase was back in 1993, and we’re so grateful to the Biden and Harris administration for this new source of funding. But it’s $8.1 billion that is the funding need.”
It means more funding solutions must be identified, and a plan to add tolls to nine bridges throughout the state is still on the table.
“We are looking at how we are going to continue paying for infrastructure. The old way we did that was with fossil fuel taxes. They are getting less efficient at producing money, so we have to come up with something different,” Wolf said. “Our preference would be to have a contractor give us bridges and roads for free, but in Pennsylvania, we have not found anybody to do that, so we have to come up with an alternative.
“The tolling of bridges is an alternative, and I think all of us are open to any alternatives to that. But we do need to pay for these things.”
Pennsylvania’s gas tax is 58.7 cents per gallon; an additional 18.3 cents per gallon goes to the federal government. Meanwhile, the Wolf and the Biden administrations are gradually removing that gas tax funding stream by forcing consumers to buy electric vehicles, so future administrations will have to figure out how to fill the financial hole that will result from these mandates.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection intends to require a minimum of 30 percent zero-emission (electric) vehicle market share for new medium and heavy-duty pickup trucks sold in 2030 and 100 percent of pickup trucks sold by 2050.
President Joe Biden’s goal of 50 percent of all new vehicles being electric by 2030 aligns with commitments by the automotive industry.