Monday, June 17, 2013

Transportation Funding Needs To Happen... Now! An open letter to Senator Scarnati, Majority Leader Turzai and Governor Corbett

By Shawn Carter


Honorable Thomas Corbett, Honorable Joseph Scarnati III and Honorable Michael Turzai:

Throughout the course of the year, concerned citizens have advocated, begged and pleaded with you and your party for more transportation dollars.

Here in Pittsburgh, that discussion sometimes seemed weighted toward transit.

For good reason.  We happen to need transit, badly. 

But transit is only one piece of the transportation puzzle.

Unless no one in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County or Harrisburg concerns themselves with the dozens of spans across our rivers and valleys.

Pennsylvania needs comprehensive transportation funding, now.

Senate Bill 1 is the closest we will get to it.  And we thank the Senate for passing it.  Of course we'd like more, but we certainly can't afford less.

I fear the day I turn on the television and see the Liberty Bridge in the Monongahela River, or the Greenfield Avenue Bridge sprawled across the Parkway East during rush hour.

I-35 Mississippi River Bridge Collapse
Trust me when I say none of you (and none of us, either) want to be asking or answering the question posed by this graphic.  It tends to be one of the single most expensive questions any government official ever gets forced to answer.

Lots of zeros behind it.

Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars building new infrastructure and potentially millions more settling implied liability claims.

We don't need that either.  Let's just build it now.

Speaking of urban expressways...

Many Pennsylvanians don't realize, as we talk about bridges, that the Parkway East is essentially a 70 year-old bridge from Churchill to the eastern portal of the Squirrel Hill Tunnels and over the Four-Mile Run to Glenwood.

Parkway East Spanning the Nine Mile Run
In fact, the next time you're stuck in traffic on the Edgewood side of the Squirrel Hill Tunnels, just look down.

On second thought, please don't.  There are enough traffic jams in and near the Squirrel Hill Tunnels.

There is a steel diaper under the Greenfield Ave. Bridge to keep chunks of that span from impaling Parkway drivers.  

Greenfield Avenue Bridge and Diaper

Speaking of bridges over valleys, the ones that span the East Street Valley (I-279) are very, very high.

Swindell Bridge

My point here is that we care about transit around here to be sure, but even our buses and light rail need roads and bridges and tunnels.

The truth is, God forbid the day we lose an interstate highway bridge (I-79 over the Ohio River, I-579 over the Allegheny River) like Minneapolis or Tacoma.

Can any of us fathom the grief if one of the bridges over the Parkways failed, especially during rush hour?

Or the logistical headache?  Or the political headache?

Getting from Downtown to Cranberry gets more difficult if the Veteran's Bridge is clogging the Allegheny.

I realize that the Turnpike Commission replaced its' 70 year-old deficient span over the Allegheny River recently, and for good reason.  It would have eventually landed in the water, crippling the economy and damaging Interstate Commerce.

But many of Pittsburgh's bridges, some of them 50+ year-old Interstate spans and many others, are at or near the end of their useful lives.

Over the preceding days, this blog and its authors have zeroed in on transit issues.  Our colleagues in other places have as well.  We know from all available data that transit is an economic engine.  The only "welfare" transit represents is that of the "welfare of our economy."  How else does an underpaid workforce make it to their job sites?

We may disagree with you on education funding, mandatory ultrasounds, gun safety, severance taxes for mineral extraction or even drilling, period, and on and on and on, but keeping people, goods and services moving in, through and out of the Commonwealth has to be one of those issues that rises above our sometimes ideological, partisan divides.

Our two-party structure, while often leaving us diametrically opposed on a whole host of issues, can not be the justification for leaving the Commonwealth's taxpayers on the hook for billions in implied liability actions, economic impairment and the potential and unnecessary loss of our single most treasured resource, the lives of our Citizens.

Roads and bridges are the tie(s) that bind Pennsylvanians.  The Lincoln Highway, the National Road, the William Penn Highway.  And when those couldn't get people and goods from one end to the other fast enough,  Pennsylvania built the nation's first superhighway, twenty years before the Interstate Highway Act for National Defense funded many of the rest.

And here's the only cost-benefit analysis that matters:  The longer we wait, the more expensive the infrastructure our lives and economy depends on becomes to build (or rebuild).

Please keep that in mind in the days to come.


  1. That is the Beechwood Blvd Bridge, alternatively called the Greenfield Bridge (not Greenfield Ave). Its scheduled to be replaced starting in 2014.

    1. That's good customer service. Maybe we should demand diapers on all structurally deficient and obsolete bridges.

    2. The Greenfield Bridge has been slated for replacement for a couple of years now. This time it hasn't gotten pushed back. But, Anon is right. Knowing the difference between Greenfield Road and Greenfield Avenue is extremely important. I've never heard it called the Beechwood Blvd Bridge, but nobody I talk to ever calls bridges by their right name.

  2. It's probably true that this is the one thing we definitely have to do. Liquor reform any which way, pension reform, heck even passing a perfectly balanced budget "on time" isn't fundamental. Maintaining infrastructure so that it doesn't kill us (and thereby providing jobs in the economy) ought to be your license to remain a public official.