ELEVEN MONTHS before the Minneapolis bridge disaster in which at least five people died, the Pennsylvania Transportation Funding and Reform Commission issued a report that said the state needed to be spending at least $1 billion more a year to repair and maintain the state's bridges and highways.

The report was intended to provide the blueprint for Gov. Rendell's transportation package of funding for highways, bridges and mass transit, and was not created to focus on safety.

But because of the Minneapolis disaster, the report is worth a second look.

The commission issuing the governor's report - made up of nine experts in the transportation field - described a crisis: bridges and highways decaying and poorly maintained, and statewide transit systems that lacked dedicated funding.

It called the highway and bridge program basically "sound," although the funding for maintenance was not keeping up with inflation.

Meanwhile, another report, issued by the Reason Foundation in June, had a more alarming message: It ranked Pennsylvania second among all states in its percentage of "deficient" bridges.

So how scared should we be? What are the chances that one of the state's 25,000 bridges is going to give way while we're on it?

Just as state officials must take the reports from the governor's commission and the Reason Foundation seriously, and do what they can to accelerate repairs, we need an accurate assessment of the real state of our bridges and highways.

State Transportation Secretary Allen Biehler gave us a little bit of that when he announced after the I-35W disaster that his department would reinspect 54 steel-deck truss bridges, five in Philadelphia, similar to the one in Minneapolis.

But it took pressure this week from Rep. Babette Josephs, D-Philadelphia, chairwoman of the State Government Committee, for PennDOT to say yesterday that it will release safety scores for all the state's bridges.

PennDOT says it's been compiling these scores, which are sent to the feds, since the 1970s. The agency was reluctant to release them at first because, it said, the data might be misrepresented.

Let the people make that call.

Releasing the information violates no policy, causes no personal harm. In fact, it could jump-start greater awareness about the need to repair the state's decaying infrastructure. And it would make U.S. Reps. Phil English, of Erie, and John Peterson, of Venago, both Republicans, look even more foolish for trying to scuttle tolls for Interstate 80 that, as part of the funding package, would help bridge maintenance in their districts.

Naturally, spending for infrastructure is not as sexy to lawmakers as pork is. And at this point, weaning them onto a more healthy diet of highway-and-bridge-repair spending is likely to be a struggle. But the tragedy of Minneapolis shows it must be done. *