Solution needed as weak bridges crack onto the priority list

One-hundred-eleven SEPTA and Amtrak bridges in the Philadelphia area are in dire need of repair, but without a financial backing, the city is left hanging.

One-hundred-eleven SEPTA and Amtrak bridges in the Philadelphia area are in dire need of repair, but without a financial backing, the city is left hanging.

Don’t look down, Philadelphia.

The spindly stretches of bridges and railroad tracks crisscrossing this great city, woven into our highways and spanning our waterways, are in need of some serious first aid. And trust me when I say a simple band-aid won’t do it.Picture 5

Miles of creaking, century-old structures of rusty steel and crumbling stone bear the burden of about 120 Amtrak and SEPTA trains a day. These tired bridges and railways release an almost audible grunt as they strain under the weight of heavy cars, packed tightly with a daily average 16,000 Philadelphians.

A recent Amtrak inspection rated half the company’s 302 Philadelphia-area bridges “poor” or lower, with many near failing.

Paul Nussbaum of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Sept. 20 that, as a result of the Amtrak inspection, “111 local bridges have been put on a priority list for repairs or replacement, with an estimated cost of $19.4 million,” a tall order considering Amtrak’s dwindling $38 million nationwide budget.

While Philadelphia’s ailing bridges will remain on the priority list, the prospect of any temporary relief is disheartening to say the least. The repairs might even be ready in time for the Phillies’ next World Series win.

“Many of those [bridges] will wait years for attention because of a lack of money,” Nussabaum said, destroying any possible glimmers of hope in Amtrak’s administrative bureaucracy.

Financially stunted, Amtrak should not be solely responsible for covering these repairs. The always magnanimous, overly efficient city government should be doing something to ensure the safety of its citizens.

If I said the lives of “voters” are at risk, it might finally garner some type of response from the city council. To date, its current major transportation arteries and railways have survived the Industrial Revolution, the Depression and two world wars.

Lucky for us, our own Sen. Arlen Spector has swooped in to the rescue, ready for this political throw down with a newly embroidered “D” on his chest. On Sept. 21, Sen. Spector stuck his open palms out to Vice President Joe Biden, asking for a pittance left over from the federal stimulus package in order to complete the necessary repairs.

Whether the money will come in time to upgrade our deteriorating infrastructure – which will include a high-speed railway corridor proposed by the Obama administration, carrying 125-mph trains – no one knows.

Senior Matthew Harrigan, a commuter on SEPTA’s R2 and pre-med student, expressed a disdain for the lack of concern for Philadelphia-area users of public transit.

“Philadelphia is doing a great injustice to their citizens by putting them at risk,” Harrigan said but added that he’d pick the possible danger of a catastrophe over driving in the city.

“I would rather risk the train than deal with parking and the monstrosity that is Broad Street traffic,” he said.

Unlike Harrigan, many Philadelphian commuters find their hands tied, with no other means of transportation besides the regional rail trains. It’s about time city council does something to ensure the safety of these people, before they find their credibility collapse beneath them.

Chase Miller can be reached at

1 Comment

  1. It’s ridiculous that our city government is so inept that our Senators have to beg federal politicians to make taxpayers from across the U.S. pay for the upkeep of bridges they will never use. It’s immoral and unethical to make taxpayers in other states pay for our city government’s incompetence.

    The city should have been saving money since the bridges were first constructed in order to pay for repairs. Anyone who has opened an accounting book (hopefully the city budget officers have) knows about depreciation. Every year a % of the bridge’s value is diminished (ex: 1,000,000 bridge is worth 10% less after year 1, 900,000 dollars, and then 10% less after that year, now it’s worth 810,000 dollars, etc.).

    If the city were a rational body, it would have put a $ amount equal to the yearly depreciation into a repair fund for such an occasion that these bridges need to be repaired or replaced.

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