Joe Brett
Century-old bridge collapses in rural area.

The Dec. 6 collapse of 116-year-old bridge in central Pennsylvania has speeded up inspection of 216 other bridges and design of a replacement, and spiked local anxiety over the state of infrastructure–already high after the Aug. 1 collapse of Minneapolis's I-35W bridge.

The 103-foot, thru-truss structure carried State Road 1012 over Clearfield Creek and linked the small community of Dysart with Clearfield Township. Approximately 270 cars traveled the bridge each day. It collapsed just after a state plow truck crossed it. No other vehicles were on the bridge at the time and nobody was injured.

The Dysart bridge appeared on a list of structurally deficient bridges released by the Pennsylvania Dept. of Transportation three months ago. Bridges with deficiency ratings must be inspected annually, and the Dysart bridge had been inspected as recently as July. Because of the age and condition of the span, a 12-ton weight limit had been imposed several years ago.

"Obviously it was on our radar screen," says Thomas Prestash, PennDOT district engineer. At the time of the collapse, PennDOT already had a consultant preparing a preliminary design for a new structure to be built in 2009. Officials now hope to speed up the design work and start construction sooner.

Congressman Bill Shuster (R-PA), called the collapse of the bridge in his district unacceptable. "The bridge collapse underscored the urgent need for government at all levels to make investment into our aging infrastructure an immediate priority," he says. Shuster's staff has been in contact with PennDOT to offer assistance.

The collapse has resulted in PennDOT taking at look at 216 similar bridges across the state. "We believe this was an isolated case," Prestash says. PennDOT arranged for an emergency declaration so bids can be immediately let to demolish and remove the structure from Clearfield Creek as soon as possible. Motorists who regularly used the bridge now have to navigate around a nine-mile detour.