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Bridge Over Perkiomen Creek Shut Down After Failed Inspection

By Jim Melwert and Jan Carabeo

GRATERFORD, Pa. (CBS) – Another bridge in Montgomery County is closed after failing an inspection.

This is going to cause some headaches in the area, as this bridge was a popular alternative to avoid traffic caused by another bridge closure just a few miles away.

In an 8-mile stretch on busy Route 29 from Schwenksville to Collegeville, there are six bridges across the Perkiomen Creek. Now, two of the six are closed after failing inspections.

The latest is the bridge on Graterford Road, which connects Perkiomen and Skippack Townships. The 218 foot bridge carries about 3,000 cars a day. It was closed Thursday evening, for an indefinite period.

PennDOT closed the nearly 60-year-old bridge in Perkiomen Township after inspectors found structural deficiencies, including exposed steel beams, deck deterioration, and a two-foot deep hole.

The other bridge, on Arcola Road, closed last August.

Pennsylvania leads the country in bridges rated structurally deficient.

The closure has surprised and frustrated both drivers and businesses in the area.

"We use this road every day, half of my customer base comes this way," Patricia Gillespie, owner of the Gravel Pike Inn, said.

PennDOT says the Graterford Road Bridge's structural deficiencies have deteriorated to the point where the bridge is no longer safe for travel.

The bridge will remain closed until a plan to repair or replace it is developed. In the meantime, drivers are being detoured over Route 29, Plank Road, and Route 73.

But the Graterford Road Bridge is just one example of close to 500 structurally deficient bridges in the southeast Pennsylvania region.

Being rated structurally deficient does not necessarily mean the structure is unsafe. PennDOT officials says it means that a bridge has deterioration to one or more of its major components.

"The average age of our bridges is anywhere between 50 and 70 years old, and they've lived past their useful life," PennDOT District Executive Lester Toaso said. "Our designs now are looking at hundred year bridges, building bridges that last 100 years, so we don't run into these problems down the road."

PennDOT says about 17 percent of the southeast Pennsylvania region's bridges are considered structurally deficient. That number has actually dropped over the last five years from about 25 percent.

Over the next five years, $2.3 billion in transportation funds will go toward vital bridge and road repairs throughout the state. Close to $50 million of that is now being put into bridges in the greater Philadelphia region.

The Spring Garden Street Bridge in Philadelphia is one such rehabilitation project. Repairs to the steel and deck will start this summer and cost $8.5 million.

Major bridge projects are also on the way for the Holme Avenue Bridge in Philadelphia and the West Maple Avenue Bridge in Bucks County.

About 25 other bridge projects throughout the southeast region will start this summer and fall as well.

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