Tuesday's abrupt closing of the Route 136 bridge over the Youghiogheny River at West Newton was another wake-up call to the Legislature, Congress and anyone who doesn't like 10-mile detours.
The structurally deficient 103-year-old bridge is like 1,200 others in our region that are near the end of their useful lives and in jeopardy of failure at any time. Three Pennsylvania bridges have collapsed in recent years, with no loss of life -- a bridge over I-70 in Washington County, the Birmingham Bridge in Pittsburgh and an I-95 bridge near Philadelphia. We're a state that loves to gamble.
Last year, PennDOT was forced to close the Donora-Webster and Charleroi-Monessen bridges over the Mon when inspections revealed serious deterioration. Both of those bridges are more than 100 years old.
Meanwhile, here is a scorecard of what lawmakers have done to address the long-term funding problems that threaten to make matters worse:
Pennsylvania Legislature: 0. Speculation is that there will be no move to make up for the $472 million in lost Act 44 funding until at least after the November elections. This problem has loomed for more than 18 months.
Congress: 0. The long-term transportation authorization law called SAFETEA-LU expired in September. Congress has passed several stopgap extensions but is unlikely to enact a new long-term measure, which is essential to states for effective transportation planning, this year. The Obama administration is squeamish about trying to find funding for the bill in a recession. And next year it will be squeamish about doing so in the run-up to the 2012 elections.
And so our geriatric bridges will continue to crumble, if not tumble.