Many county bridges are not in good shape

While President Barack Obama will deliver his State of the Union address on Feb. 12, Lycoming County Transportation Planner Mark Murawski gave an address of his own Tuesday about state of the county’s bridges.

And the picture wasn’t all that rosy.

The county is challenged with maintaining more than 700 bridges, with more than 200 of them owned by local municipalities.

Murawski said 65 bridges are structurally deficient, requiring immediate attention.

But, of the $5 million yearly federal allocation for bridge projects in Lycoming County, the state Department of Transportation uses all but $500,000 of it.

With that amount of money left over, Murawski said it would take 60 years to fix the county’s structurally-deficient bridges.

“You need a multi-pronged approach to fix this problem,” he said.

Murawski said Lycoming County needs to continue its bridge inspection program, and will ask commissioners for up to $116,000 to do so. He said Lycoming County is the only county in the state that inspects all of its bridges, not just those longer than 20 feet as required by federal law.

He also said funds need to be better disbursed to local municipalities for bridge work, while at the same time making those projects more cost effective.

“We have to educate our local municipalities,” Murawski added, noting that locally-owned bridges have been largely ignored and not properly maintained.

One bridge in Hepburn Township, Murawski said, was so bad that holes were found in its beams and was immediately closed. A school bus that regularly traveled across the bridge could have been “swallowed up,” he said.

Murawski suggested that some smaller, lesser-used bridges may need to be permanently closed.

Commissioner Tony Mussare asked Murawski why the county should spend money on bridge inspections if there isn’t any money available from the state to fix them.

But Murawski said information on the bridges is useful when applying for prospective projects when money does become available.

“This is a small investment with a big return later,” he said.