Hundreds of structurally deficient bridges found in central Pennsylvania

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HARRISBURG, PA. -- Pennsylvania ranks high on a list no one wants to be on.

The commonwealth came in second for states having the most structurally deficient bridges.

FOX43 looked into what officials are doing about fixing the state's crumbling infrastructure and keeping drivers safe.

In September 2015, crews were out inspecting the Norman Wood Bridge in southern York County when one inspector says he spotted what looked like a line someone had drawn with a magic marker on a steel girder, but soon he knew they had a bigger problem than graffiti when he realized he could see through it.

PennDOT assistant bridge engineer district 8 Rich Runyen said "I was in the office when it happened. It was definitely an interesting day."

"Once we got a close look at it, and we saw the size of the crack, we knew we would have to repair it. There was no tip-toeing around it," Runyen said.

Fractures from the tallest bridge in York County to the longest bridge on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the Delaware River Bridge. The Turnpike bridge outside of Philadelphia had a crack discovered this January.

Pennsylvania's crumbling infrastructure is on the minds of engineers keeping their eyes on fractures.

Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission chief engineer Brad Heigel said "that day, I had this thought in my mind, what if. I get home that afternoon, and I'm home probably 15 minutes and my phone rings. It's my assistant chief engineer, calling me saying 'we got a problem.'"

Since a crack was found in the Norman Wood Bridge, it gets inspected every six months, while each of the state's 25,000 bridges gets examined every two years.

"We have about 3,600 in our district. Over just about half of those were built before 1960, and when they're built, a lot of those bridges were built for 50 years. So, a lot of them are approaching their lifespans," Runyen said.

Looking for anything out of the ordinary, inspectors check the three parts of a bridge from the road cars ride on, to the steel or concrete frame, along with the supports.

"They each get a grade on our scale of zero to nine, nine being the best, if it drops down to a four on any of those three components it's considered structurally deficient," Runyen said.

At a cost of $10 million to fix, crews rushed to repair the Delaware River Bridge in seven weeks.

It cost millions to restore it, and millions were lost to close it.

After all, shutting the bridge down meant no traffic could cross and no tolls would be collected.

Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission director of public relations Carl DeFebo said "the Turnpike Commission is taking a hit, of one to two million dollars a week. It's significant. That's another reason why we are pushing hard to reopen. That's critical revenue for us."

The American Road and Transportation Builders Association took a look at the nation's crumbling infrastructure, and ranked Pennsylvania second to Iowa for the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges.

There are more than 500 structurally deficient bridges in central Pennsylvania alone.

Adams County: 56
Cumberland County: 38
Dauphin County: 33
Franklin County: 39
Juniata County: 48
Lancaster County: 25
Lebanon County: 21
Mifflin County: 18
Perry County: 35
York County: 96

PennDOT spokesperson Erin Waters-Trasatt said "we're getting 200 to 250 becoming structurally deficient every year just because of age, and condition. We're being able to stay ahead of that because of Act 89, and the taxpayer's investments."

"The majority of our major structures have been replaced, obviously delaware river bridge has not, hocks falls up the northeast extension has not, and beaver river bridge in western PA has not," Heigel said.

PennDOT is on the move with its Rapid Bridge Replacement Plan to replace structurally deficient bridges, including 91 in central Pennsylvania alone.

The program speeds up what PennDOT officials said would have taken ten years to complete in three.

"We all have our families and children riding across these bridges every day, we know how important they are, and that's why we have a robust inspection program," Waters-Trasatt said.

"But even if we knock off 30 bridges in a year, it's better than the year before and we're making progress," Runyen said.

"It's not really something where you see a finish line, per se, it's something we're working on every day to upgrade the bridges," Waters-Trasatt said.

Pennsylvania Rapid Bridge Replacement Projects by County Map