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October 15th, 2008
America in Gridlock
[VIDEO] The Price of Decay

In Pennsylvania, there are nearly 6,000 bridges in disrepair – the most in the nation. According to the Federal Highway Administration, 39 percent of bridges in the state are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. In the first segment of a five part series on infrastructure in the U.S., PBS NewsHour Senior Correspondent Ray Suarez reports with Blueprint America on Pennsylvania’s aging bridges.

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In March of this year, an overpass on Interstate 95 in Philadelphia was found to be near collapse, resulting in an emergency repair job and the temporary closing of one of the northeast’s busiest roadways.

Replacing just this single troubled 8-mile section of highway will cost an estimated $2 billion.  And, like any other state, there is limited money to draw from — both on the state and federal level.

Gov. Ed Rendell

“States and local governments in this country pay 75 percent of the cost of maintaining our infrastructure,” says Gov. Ed Rendell (D., PA), an advocate for bipartisan efforts for increased federal infrastructure spending, “Unless the federal government is willing to step up and develop a real infrastructure repair program, we are never going to be able to do the two things we need to do: one, maintain what we have and two, build new things.”

Web Exclusive: For an extended interview on infrastructure with Gov. Ed Rendell, click here.

  • bob previdi

    We need to reconsider how much we allow our society to sprawl. Land use planning and transportation must be developed hand in hand. We must begin to resist the temptation to undermind our cities by allowing suburban office parks and shopping centers. It has already become more popular to live “in town” and people like the idea of walking and biking. We now need to translate that into real action when it comes to both zoning and transportation planning decisions.

  • Thirteen/WNET » Penn. Gov. Ed Rendell Talks about PA’s Infrastructure Problems

    [...] is facing decaying bridges, freeways, railways, and more. PA’s Governor Rendell talks to [...]

  • Brian

    Exactly right, Bob.

    I just saw this segment and got frustated because everyone is assuming that we need to spend all this money and rebuild everything. We could spend considerably less money and create more durable and efficient transportation systems by creating incentives to use transit and live in cities. The report only spoke about rebuilding the interstate system; it didn’t mention building and upgrading regional and inter-city rail. The European system of transportation has to be pursued.

    In the end, as the portion about the need to raise tolls suggested, we need to use interstates in a more limited fashion. They should be for trucking and taking vacations, not for people’s daily 30-mile commutes. People simply need to move less in their daily life. Try living within walking distance of work or school. It’s a surprisingly affordable, efficient, and simple way to live.

  • Gloria


    That’s a great thought, but people can’t always live right next to where they work, especially in two-income families. Also, it’s not always financially possible to live in an area near where you work. In the past, the companies for which my husband and I worked were about 35 miles apart. Factoring in which neighborhoods were affordable for us and somewhat diverse (as we are an interracial couple), the best we could find was someplace about 30 miles from where he worked and 5 miles from where I worked. Now we work at the same place, but again with the same requirements for a neighborhood–affordable for us, somewhat diverse, and adding in the requirement of having a good school system–we are still living about 15 miles from where we work. I’d love living within walking distance, but our company is surrounded by other businesses, a university, and 2 VERY EXPENSIVE, all-white residential areas. Just outside of that are lower-income, higher-crime areas with failing school systems. So, we moved to the closest neighborhood we could find that met our requirements, and even it is a bit of stretch for our budget. There’s a lot more that needs fixing in addition to transportation options to get people to move back into the cities in all areas, including the school systems, segregation (whether self-imposed or otherwise), etc.

  • Robert Batt

    During the segments on roads & bridges nobody is mentioning salt. Use of salt in the winter is causing roads & especially bridges to corrode & break up. This is especially true in the snow belt states. As you drive under almost any bridge you can see rusting steel & breaking concrete. There has got to be a better way!

  • Thirteen/WNET » Watch 5 Reports on Infrastructure from NewsHour

    [...] five special reports on the state of infrastructure in America. You can now watch them online: * The Price of Decay: Bridges in PA * Return to Sender: America’s Clogged Ports * Nowhere to Grow: Buckeye, AZ stresses the [...]

  • Sarah McKay


    I agree. So much can be done to make cities more desirable. One of the most important is to improve the public schools. The poor quality of public schools in American cities is one of the biggest reasons why people choose to live elsewhere. Improving public education doesn’t just benefit the children it benefits the entire community.

  • Nancy

    I thought the tolls collected on highways were to be used to maintain them. Where did the money go?

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