The 34 bridges found in and around Macungie, Lower Macungie and Alburtis are structurally sound, for the most part.
However, eight of those bridges -- 23.5 percent -- are not. Four are state-owned and four are locally owned.
The numbers put the greater Macungie area directly in line with the rest of Pennsylvania, according to a recently released report by Transportation for American that found 26.5 of the state's bridges to be structurally deficient which means they need maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement.
Out of 50 states and the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania ranks first nationally in terms of the overall poor condition of the state’s bridges, (1 being the worst, 51 being the best), the report says.
However, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, even if deterioration is present, a structurally deficient bridge can be safe.
To understand the pieces involved, the report continues with definitions of bridge parts:
"Bridges have three components: the superstructure which supports the deck, the substructure which uses the ground to support the superstructure and the deck which is the top surface of the bridge that cars, trucks and people cross. ...If a bridge is rated 'structurally deficient,' the bridge requires significant maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement. A state may restrict heavy vehicle traffic, conduct immediate repairs to allow unrestricted use or close the bridge to traffic until repairs can be completed," the TFA report says.
Transportation for America rated Pennsylvania's 22,271 bridges on a scale of 1-100, with 1 being the worst and 100 being the best. The report deems any bridge with a rating of 50 or below as structurally deficient.
The TFA's report issues sufficiency ratings to every bridge which indicates the structure's adequacy and safety, the structure's serviceability and functional obsolescence and how essential the bridge is for public use. The ratings go from 100 (entirely sufficient) to 0 (entirely insufficient). Bridges with a sufficiency rating below 50 are considered structurally deficient.
The four state owned bridges that fall below that threshold, which can be found on the TFA map, with their sufficiency ratings include:
* Lower Macungie Road over a tributary to Spring Creek in Lower Macungie Township: 46
* Two bridges on Spring Creek Road over Spring Creek in Lower Macungie Township: 42.6 and 43.3.
* Lehigh Street over a branch of the Swope Creek in Macungie: 49.8.
Ronald J. Young, district press officer for the PennDOT says that none of the bridges are unsafe.
"PennDOT will close a bridge when advanced deterioration results in a load rating capacity (weight limit) of less than three tons. If safety of the traveling public cannot be guaranteed, then the bridge is closed," he said in an email.
According to the report, however, the most structurally deficient bridges in our area are owned by Lower Macungie Township. With their sufficiency ratings, they include:
* A timber beam bridge on Church Lane that spans the railroad tracks: 14.8
* A metal bridge on Millrace Road over the Little Lehigh Creek: 18
* A metal bridge on Macungie Road over the Little Lehigh Creek: 25.1
* A metal bridge on Wild Cherry Lane over the Little Lehigh Creek: 37.2
All of the township bridges are posted with weight limits, some of which have been adjusted as recently as a few months ago.
Township Public Works director Dennis Hinkel said he was not familiar with Transportation for America's report. PennDOT inspects Lower Macungie's bridges every two years, he says, and those reports are confidential.
"But the bridges are still there after every storm," he says as a testament to the bridges' endurance and strength. The metal mesh bridges are particularly good in the kind of weather the area has had lately, he says, because during flooding conditions, water flows through them.
"That makes for less pressure on solid side walls," he says.
The ones that are posted with weight restrictions have been so marked because the heaviest trucks can be very hard on a bridge, especially one made of wooden beams such as the one on Church Lane.
But all of them are safe, Hinkel says.