Fire crews in Chester County divert around closed bridges adding minutes to response times.
“For somebody who’s waiting on the fire department or an ambulance to arrive, a minute means a lot,” Keystone Valley Fire Chief Brian Gathercole said.
Gathercole’s department serves Parkesburg Borough, which is the only municipality in the five county Philadelphia Metro with two closed bridges. The bridges on East and West Bridge street closed in the mid 1990’s when state engineers deemed them unsafe for traffic.
They are among 592 bridges in Chester, Montgomery, Bucks, Delaware and Philadelphia counties PennDOT rates in poor condition. That's nearly 16% of the region’s bridges.
“If a bridge gets to the point where it can’t carry trucks or cars, the prudent thing is to close it and we’ve seen that in Pennsylvania,” structural engineer Andy Herrmann said.
Herrmann is a past president of the American Society of Civil Engineers. The group’s reports on American infrastructure say poor roads and bridges cost New Jersey Drivers an extra $713 a year in car repairs and traffic delays. The ASCE estimate it cost Delaware drivers an extra $456 a year. In Pennsylvania, the ASCE projects traffic congestion and rough bridge decks add up to $3.7 billion in wasted time and fuel -- or $410 a year for the state's 9 million drivers.
Bridge Conditions Across Pennsylvania
There are 1,000s of bridges on the state route system, eight feet or longer. Here are their conditions.
The Federal Highway Administration shows 3,873 bridges in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware have one or more structurally deficient components. Engineers say that doesn’t mean they’re dangerous, just deteriorating.
The busiest open bridges in poor condition include Route 42 over Big Timber Creek in Camden, I-76 over Newton Creek in Gloucester City and I-95 over Comly Street in Northeast Philadelphia.
“If we don’t’ act quickly, it’s going to cost us more than what we’d spend to fix it,” Herrmann said.
In Pennsylvania $7.2 billion dollars’ worth of bridge construction is underway or planned. PennDOT records show the money will address 1,460 bridges. State records also show more than 4,200 need repair or replacement.
“Its continuous motion. Our work is never done,” PennDOT engineer and project manager Mirlene Saintval said.
Saintval’s team designs new bridges to last a century. She said there’s not enough time or money to start work on every bridge in need.
PennDOT records show 33 bridges in the five-county region of southeast Pennsylvania deteriorated to the point they had to be closed. That includes the two in Parkesburg Borough.
“You’re talking about a huge loss by not doing anything. And you look at the president’s bill at $2 or $3 trillion, that’s still a lot less than $10 trillion in GDP we’re going to lose over that time,” Herrmann said of national costs, referring to gross domestic product of the United States.
The Biden Administration’s infrastructure plan promises to “repair the worst 10,000 small bridges, providing critical linkages to communities.”
In western Chester County, Chief Gathercole hopes his town’s two closed bridges are among them. “We would love the bridges to be open,” he said.