Sen. Casey discusses bridges as part of proposed transportation bill

Roberto Clemente Bridge

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey emphasized the importance of funding bridges that Pennsylvanians use to go to work and school soon after the U.S. House of Representatives approved a $305 billion transportation funding bill 359-65 on Thursday.

The bill is expected to pass in the Senate and be signed by President Barack Obama, according to The Hill.

Casey said the bill would provide a stable future for funding bridges that aren’t part of the national highway system, called “off-system bridges,” in a conference call with reporters on Thursday.

He said there would be $73.8 million for these off-system bridges in Pennsylvania each year for the next five years. Since 2012, the state has received the same amount of money as it would in the proposed bill, but it had to be approved on a yearly basis.

Of the more than 1,200 bridges in Allegheny County, 350 are off-system bridges, according to data provided by Casey’s office. These bridges could be owned by local, county or state authorities.

Casey said it’s up to the counties to prioritize which bridges get fixed first and to submit requests to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

"I'm sure counties know better than I do,” he said.

Pennsylvania has more than 22,000 bridges and 23 percent of those are structurally deficient, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. On the group’s 2014 infrastructure report card, Pennsylvania received a D+ for the condition of its bridges.

This federal help, on top of millions from the state’s 2013 transportation bill, could start alleviating the backlog of infrastructure projects around the state.

“Finally, PA will have more resources than it did in the last several years,” Casey said.

Also in the bill are provisions to reinstate the Export-Import Bank, which has been “effectively closed” to new business since its charter expired at the end of June, according to The Hill. The Export-Import Bank was founded in 1934, and it provided financing and insurance to foreign buyers of U.S. products, according to this Vox explainer.

The potential for its reinstatement has angered some Republicans, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a presidential candidate.

According to POLITICO:

To win the backing of (South Carolina Sen. Lindsey) Graham and two Washington state Democrats — Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray — for a major trade bill last month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) promised the three a vote in June to reauthorize the bank.

President Barack Obama even called Cantwell in the Senate cloakroom to promise that the bank measure would be taken up in both chambers…

Boeing, which was founded in Washington, had about $3 billion worth of jet sales that couldn’t be financed when the Export-Import Bank was shut down earlier this year, according to seattlepi.

Reach Eric Holmberg at 412-315-0266 or at eholmberg@publicsource.org. Follow him on Twitter @holmberges.