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05.02.2013 0

A Bridge Too Far… From Common Sense

By Chris Freind

One. Fourteen. Two. Zero.

Here’s what those digits represent:

One: Pennsylvania’s rank for states with the worst bridges.

Fourteen: Length in feet of a local bridge on a vital street, closed a year ago due to its deteriorating condition.

Two: Years. The time it will take to re-open that bridge, if we’re really, really lucky.

Zero: The motivation level of the state Department of Transportation, local and state elected officials, and all the faceless bureaucrats to replace the bridge expeditiously.

That appalling lack of concern will continue to significantly, and needlessly, inconvenience drivers and residents (aka “taxpayers”) for yet another year.

It’s enough to make you jump off a bridge.


Those who never heard of the Gradyville Road Bridge outside Philadelphia might ask, “How does this affect me?”

Simple: this fiasco is not an isolated incident, but one representative of what’s wrong across America. At one time, our government tackled problems with (relative) speed and efficiency, from building an extensive Interstate highway system to landing a man on the moon. But now, it moves like a fat sloth, an ambitionless creature whose girth is matched only by its insatiable appetite to feed at the public trough.

Unfortunately, too many are content to either accept such bureaucratic malaise as the cost of doing business, or throw up their arms in disgust, quietly complaining that “nothing works anymore” and “you can’t fight city hall,” but making no attempt to change things.

Closing bridges indefinitely, with no imperative to quickly alleviate the resulting congestion and safety issues, not to mention the negative impact on local businesses, is expected in banana republics. But it shouldn’t be par for the course here.

So what takes so long?

1. Lack of money. Government at all levels has refused to act like responsible families who live within their means and tighten their belts in difficult times. Instead, frivolous spending by government officials has become the rule. Now, with coffers low, and in some cases, empty — despite ever-increasing taxes and fees — more and more basic services and core functions of government are falling by the wayside.

Untold billions are squandered each year on pork barrel projects and deals that reward big campaign donors, yet transportation funding to fix the thousands of dangerous bridges and roads remains mired in the morass of ineffective state governments. Pennsylvania’s situation is especially troubling. Rather than prioritize spending and cut waste as a true leader would do, Republican Governor Tom Corbett proposes to raise gas taxes so astronomically that Pennsylvanians would pay the highest — yes, highest — gas taxes in the nation.

2. Bloated government bureaucracy. Interestingly, a call to the local township yielded an unexpected answer: the bridge delay is apparently not due to lack of funding.  That’s all the more damning, an indictment of how totally unresponsive government has become.

Originally, the bridge was to re-open this spring.  Yet issues keep arising, causing endless delays. Ever-changing plans, construction easements, addition of sewer pipes, and even more revised plans. And they’re still months away from the bidding process, let alone awarding contracts and commencing construction — proof positive that rather than speedily rectifying the problem, government will leisurely “cross that bridge” when it comes to it.

And that is unacceptable.


Is this making too big a deal about “just a local bridge?” Absolutely not, because if that’s the mentality, where does it end?  That it’s okay to accept bureaucracy at its worst?  That we should cede our hard-earned money to the government with no expectation of a return?  And what does it say about the competence of our government officials if they can’t even replace a 14-foot bridge with all the money they need in less than two years?  Doesn’t exactly bode well for the timely completion of any really big project, does it?

Painful as it is, there is a simple litmus test we can all use to judge our progress: would China do it faster and better? Would China still be rebuilding the World Trade Center a staggering 12 years after the 9/11 attacks? Not a chance. Would China ground their entire space program for years because of an accident in an inherently risky endeavor? Nope. And would China allow its roads and bridges — the lifeblood of any growing economy — to sit idle for years because of indecisiveness and lack of vision?  No. That’s why they are growing, and we are not.  And before anyone yells, “Then Go Move to China,” remember one thing.

The Chinese are using the playbook that America invented but has long since abandoned.

Gradyville Road has become a “bridge too far” from common sense. It’s time to burn that bridge of bureaucracy and consider it water over the dam.

Otherwise, we better learn to walk on water.

Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. He can be reached at

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