Officials in Pennsylvania and New Jersey moved yesterday to check on the safety of the region's bridges in the aftermath of the Minneapolis bridge collapse.

In Harrisburg, PennDot was preparing a list of Pennsylvania bridges similar to the one that failed - in the event that the structure's design is found to have been central to its collapse.

"None of us should jump to conclusions," Gov. Rendell told reporters in a conference call, while noting that Pennsylvania has 30 of these continuous deck truss bridges. He said he believed that "people can drive the interstates, go over the bridges, with a reasonable degree of confidence."

In New Jersey, Gov. Corzine ordered state transportation officials to examine every one of the state's 6,400 bridges. He asked for an interim report in a week and a complete report in 45 days.

The final document, he said, would detail "the ownership, rating and condition of all New Jersey's bridges - including those operated by the state, counties, municipalities and private entities - the inspection process, and how much it would cost to repair them."

Corzine said that any unsafe bridge would be shut down immediately, adding that "the lesson of the tragedy of Minneapolis is vigilance. We must ensure we are doing everything we can to protect the public."

Both New Jersey and Pennsylvania have significant numbers of bridges classified as "structurally deficient," as was the Minnesota bridge.

Being structurally deficient does not mean that a bridge is unsafe to drive across. Rather, the classification means that a bridge has at least one deteriorating structural component.

According to the National Bridge Inventory, compiled by the Federal Highway Administration, 5,582 of Pennsylvania's 22,327 bridges are classified as deficient. State officials say the actual numbers are 5,900 out of 25,000.

Only Oklahoma has more such bridges; New Jersey has 1,532 of them.

Other stewards of the region's bridges also were taking steps to assure motorists.

At a news conference in Camden, Jeffrey Nash, vice chairman of the Delaware River Port Authority, said he was "very confident in the safety and security of the four [DRPA] bridges."

The DRPA operates the Ben Franklin, Walt Whitman, Betsy Ross and Commodore Barry Bridges over the Delaware River.

Bill Brooks, the DRPA's chief engineer, said all four were considered to be in "good or satisfactory condition," and none were "structurally deficient."

Engineers from the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission yesterday performed an additional inspection of the pin-hanger support system of the Scudder Falls Bridge. The bridge carries Interstate 95 over the Delaware River.

"It's working fine," said Frank McCartney, executive director of the commission, which operates and maintains 20 traffic river bridges. "We just want to make sure they take another look at it for our peace of mind and those of our motorists."

Liz Verna, spokeswoman for the Burlington County Bridge Commission - which operates the Tacony-Palmyra, Burlington-Bristol and Riverside-Delanco bridges, among others - said that "our level of inspection already exceeds the requirements of the Federal Highway Administration and New Jersey Department of Transportation."

Nationally, nearly 74,000 bridges are rated structurally deficient, and the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that repairing them all would take at least a generation and cost more than $188 billion.

Five years ago, the Federal Highway Administration estimated that the backlog of needed bridge repairs would cost at least $55 billion.

In Pennsylvania, 54 of the "structurally deficient" bridges are closed, according to state records, and an additional 700 have weight restrictions.

Many of the others get inspected as often as two to four times a year; state policy calls for all state-maintained bridges to be inspected at least once every two years.

Rendell pledged that the state would take whatever it learns from the Minnesota disaster and "evaluate whether changes need to be made to our current, aggressive inspection process."

According to the federal inventory, 43 percent of Pennsylvania bridges and 36 percent of New Jersey's are either structurally deficient or "functionally obsolete," with the latter description applying to bridges that cannot adequately accommodate current traffic volume.

The national average for the two categories is 26 percent. Only three states - Hawaii, Massachusetts and Rhode Island - have higher combined percentages than Pennsylvania.

In 2006, state officials said, PennDot spent $558 million on 867 bridge projects across the state, with $133 million going to preservation projects and the rest spent on restoration, rehabilitation and replacement. The amount was $258 million in the final year before Rendell took office.

Last month, the state legislature enacted plans to infuse $450 million in new money for highway and bridge projects this year.

This was less than Rendell had wanted, and he reiterated his position yesterday that the states and the federal government must make substantial investments in infrastructure in the years ahead.

Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) agreed, saying: "Previous Congresses and the president have not provided the funding necessary to meet our transportation needs."

In New Jersey, capital spending on bridges has risen from $318 million to $509 million under Corzine.

New Jersey has seven continuous deck truss bridges, including one on the Pulaski Skyway in the northern part of the state. None is in South Jersey.

Of the 30 such bridges in Pennsylvania, nearly all are in the western part of the state.

Two are on the Pennsylvania Turnpike - one in Allegheny County, the other in Beaver - and a third is on the Northeast Extension in Carbon County.

Pa. Bridges

Number of state-owned bridges more than 20 feet long: 14,868

Number of those bridges considered structurally deficient: 3,669

Age of the average Pennsylvania bridge: 50.5 years

Age of the average U.S. bridge: 39 years

SOURCES: Pennsylvania Department of Transportation analysis of December 2006 Federal Highway Administration data, AP.


Contact senior writer Larry Eichel
at 215-854-2415 or
Staff writers Larry King and Nancy Petersen contributed to this article, which also contains information from the Associated Press.