York County transportation officials narrowly avoided chaos a few weeks ago, with a combination of deteriorating infrastructure and lack of funding posing new obstacles for traffic management.
The situation was bad enough: a couple of sinkholes closed Route 30 in Hellam Township, and all of the westbound traffic from one of the county's most heavily traveled arteries was rerouted onto Route 462 and over a little bridge across Kreutz Creek.
But it could have been worse: The same day all that traffic was rerouted, the state's Department of Transportation announced new weight restrictions on about 1,000 bridges statewide - one of which was the little Kreutz Creek bridge that was fielding big traffic.
"If that bridge had been posted at that time, the trucks wouldn't have been able to cross it," said Will Clark, chief of transportation planning at York County Planning Commission. "They would have either had to sit on 30, which I'm sure they wouldn't have done, or tried to find some other route."
So after a day of heavy use by tractor-trailers, the bridge was to be posted with a 29-ton restriction. A loaded tractor-trailer weighs about 40 tons, Clark said.
He said trucks would likely face an additional 8-mile detour around that bridge if an incident closes Route 30 again, "but hopefully we never have to worry about it again."
Failed agreement: Hope might be about the best Clark can do until state funding is secured and improvement plans are put in place.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. has introduced legislation that he said will at least "chip away" at the work backlog left when state legislators failed to agree on a $2 billion transportation plan before leaving for the summer, prompting the bridge restrictions.
Casey said he shared the frustration of that failure, "when you can't get agreement on something as vital as transportation policy," but said the "same thing happens in Washington."
But Casey has made some progress with transportation, last year passing a bipartisan measure to increase funding for deficient bridges. He and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., have introduced another plan that would increase funding for county and municipal-owned bridges by about $30 million in Pennsylvania.
"Even in a Congress that's divided on so much, when you can get an amendment like this through last year with a Democrat and a Republican working together, this is a pretty significant achievement," he said.
He said he's confident the new bill, which would likely come up for vote next year, will also be successful. There are, he said, enough states with rural communities and small towns that have the same infrastructure issues as Pennsylvania.
But Pennsylvania, Casey said, has the distressing distinction of having more structurally deficient bridges than any other state.
That's a deep concern when even losing one bridge, those like the Lincoln Highway bridge over Kreutz Creek, can have "huge, cascading economic effects to a local community," he said.
Extra money: The extra money would be available in 2015 if Casey's measure passes.
Clark said the $30 million statewide would, if funding formulas stay about the same, translate to about $780,000 for York County.
While that falls short of the estimated $1.5 million it costs to replace a standard two-lane bridge, it's enough to more than double the $250,000-$300,000 the county spends per year on maintenance and possibly stretch the life of bridges, he said.
York has 36 structurally deficient bridges, and 21 state and locally owned bridges for which the state recently lowered the posted weight.
York County President Commissioner Steve Chronister said the county's bridges are "in dire need of work," with most of the repairs coming from the county's share of a liquid fuel tax.
"More money would certainly help," he said.
County engineers determine the order in which the bridges will be repaired, with those in most serious need getting the quickest attention given the limited funding, said vice-president commissioner Doug Hoke.
- Staff writer Christina Kauffman can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.