In the aftermath of the Minnesota bridge collapse four years ago, about $4.3 billion has been spent to fix up and maintain thousands of state-owned bridges throughout Pennsylvania.

But it's getting more difficult to repair the bridges as they age, according to transportation officials.

Pennsylvania leads the country with 5,205 structurally deficient state-owned bridges. Pennsylvania also has the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges in the country -- about 25 percent, according to a report released in April by a Washington, D.C.-based transportation reform coalition.

And as funding dwindles, that number will grow, said PennDOT spokesman Steve Chizmar.

Jason Chesla, left, and Nate Simpson from C.S. Davidson Inc. inspect the Long Level Road bridge Thursday over Fishing Creek in Lower Windsor Township.
Jason Chesla, left, and Nate Simpson from C.S. Davidson Inc. inspect the Long Level Road bridge Thursday over Fishing Creek in Lower Windsor Township. (John A. Pavoncello Photo)

"We've increased funding in the past few years and have been working on the backlog of bridges," he said. "The bottom line is, we're going to go in the opposite direction. We'll begin to lose ground. Rather than taking bridges off the structurally deficient list, we'll begin adding them."

It would cost about $8.7 billion to fix all state-owned structurally deficient bridges in Pennsylvania, Chizmar said.

As part of the search for more funding for road and bridge maintenance, the Transportation Funding Advisory Commission delivered a final report to Gov. Tom Corbett earlier this week. Recommendations include

increasing driver's license and vehicle registration fees and other changes designed to generate about $2.5 billion over five years.

Meanwhile, between 300 and 400 of the state's bridges slip into structurally deficient mode annually, according to the report from Transportation for America, a coalition focused on transportation reform.

Following Pennsylvania, Oklahoma had 22 percent deficient bridges, Iowa had 21.7 percent, Rhode Island had 21.6, and South Dakota had 20.3.

In York County: Although crews in York County are also dealing with bridge maintenance issues, they are making progress. In 2007, there were 139 structurally deficient bridges in the county. As of June, the number decreased to 126 -- about a 2 percent decrease from 21 percent structurally deficient to 19 percent.

"Bridge projects are high on our priority list," said Tucker Ferguson, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation District 8, which covers Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Perry and York counties. "We can't do everything we'd like to do because there isn't enough money."

Based on the June figures, York County ranks 38th among the state's 67 counties in the highest percentage of structurally deficient state-owned bridges in Pennsylvania.

Potter County leads the list at 44 percent. In this region, Lancaster and Adams counties have higher percentages of structurally deficient bridges; Dauphin and Cumberland counties have lower percentages.

What's deficient: Just because a bridge is labeled as structurally deficient, that does not mean it is unsafe for motorists, Ferguson said.

Inspectors consider a bridge structurally deficient if any of the bridge's three components has been rated "poor."

Inspectors look at the bridge's deck, which refers to the paved portion of the road; its substructure, which refers to the piers or other parts of the foundation; and its superstructure, which refers to the beams and other support features.

"We inspect bridges every two years," he said. "We can put a weight limit on (some bridges). If it's bad enough, we'll close it and order emergency repairs or put it on a program to replace it."

Bridges have about a 42-year life expectancy, experts say.

But a Newberry Township bridge that runs over the Conewago Creek has been open and operating for 122 years. That bridge was built in 1889 and is currently posted for a 15-ton weight restriction.

There has been a push for bridge preservation, like that Newberry Township bridge, Ferguson said. Preservation calls for minor repairs to extend the life of the bridge 10 to 15 years.

And after the Minnesota bridge collapse on Aug. 1, 2007, resulted in 13 deaths and 145 injuries, there was a new push to ensure bridges were safe.

In Pennsylvania, former Gov. Ed Rendell signed legislation to accelerate bridge work throughout the state.

Under that legislation, 16 bridges in York County were identified for either repair or replacement. Ten of those bridges have been fixed, while six are still under construction, according to PennDOT.

Headaches, too: Not that the arrival of repair crews is always welcomed.

The North George Street bridge over Willis Run in North York was one of the 16 bridges scheduled for accelerated repair. The bridge has about 15,700 vehicles cross it daily, including customers destined for P & H Distributors Inc., a plumbing store at 516 N. George St.

The project prevented traffic heading north on George Street from making a left into the business's parking lot, said owner Andrew Cucchiara. Regular customers found ways in, but Cucchiara said some who were not familiar with the area became frustrated with the lack of detour signs and would sometimes use Prospect Hill Cemetery to turn around, enabling them to make a right turn into his lot.

To further frustrations, Cucchiara said at least two tractor-trailers became stuck on the road as it was narrowed during construction, completely blocking access to his lot for at least an hour each time.

"We got more complaints than anything," he said.

Stagemyer Flower Shop, which has been at 537 N. George St. for almost 70 years, also dealt with customer complaints. Co-owner Karen Hinson said business slowed down all winter.

Orange detour signs directing traffic to her lot helped retain customers that she otherwise might have lost in the middle of construction, she said.

"I'm sure if they didn't have them, it would have made a bigger difference," she said. "I'm relieved it's done. It's back to normal."

Construction began in late fall, complete with deck work, repaving and new traffic lines. The project was completed in the spring, crossing that bridge off the state's structurally deficient list.

-- Reach Amanda Dolasinski at 505-5437 or adolasinski@yorkdispatch.com.