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How decaying Pa. bridges go from bad to worse

Plus, former AG Kathleen Kane arrested for DUI.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
March 15, 2022
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—Colin, PA Post Editor
Paper chase, Kane charged, orphan wells, storage space, crisis response, treatment funnel, and electric vehicle 'range anxiety.' It's Tuesday. 
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Years before it collapsed in January, injuring 10 people and piquing collective anxiety around Pennsylvania's aging infrastructure, Pittsburgh's Fern Hollow Bridge was flagged for serious safety concerns by state inspectors.

And while the bridge was placed on a waitlist for state funding needed to make the critical repairs soon after, the money never came.

Instead, millions of dollars that could have been used to shore up the poor-rated span went to a bridge in far better condition three miles away. 

The Post-Gazette links the move to PennDOT's "preventative" funding choices, part of a system that allows bridges across Pennsylvania with chronic problems to "exist for years in a perpetual state of disrepair."

THE CONTEXT: PennDOT officials say preventative maintenance keeps bridges in "fair" or "good" condition from sliding into "poor" shape, calling it a more efficient use of taxpayer money than a "worst first" model alone.

If there's a structure local officials think should be bumped up the list, all they need to do is advocate on its behalf, according to the state. But there are issues with that approach, as the Post-Gazette explains:

"Ultimately, it leaves local officials uniquely responsible to lobby for funds to fix locally owned spans... For local governments — especially cash-strapped smaller towns, cities and counties — the burden is even greater because not only do they have to push aggressively to get their bridge noticed, they’re also forced to ante up part of the project cost, typically 5%."

Naturally, the competition for dollars is fierce in a state with some of the worst bridges in the U.S. And while the state has cut its own backlog of poor-rated spans by nearly two-thirds, local ones have lagged far behind. 

With this in mind, two lawmakers — state Rep. Mike Carroll (D., Luzerne) and state Rep. Tim Hennessy (R., Chester) — are proposing a $500 million trust fund to help close the gap. The fund would be bankrolled with state budget surpluses or unused federal pandemic relief money.
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"If I don't testify, and nobody else testifies, he may walk. Justice delayed is justice denied. The man did a crime and he should pay."

—Judah Samet, a survivor of the Holocaust and the massacre at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue, on wanting to testify at Robert Bowers' trial
» FOR THE RECORD: Join us Wednesday, March 16 at 6:30 p.m. ET via Zoom as our reporters and other experts discuss Pennsylvania's open records law, how it impacts Spotlight PA's coverage, and how you can use it, too. Register here and submit questions to events@spotlightpa.org
@yatsko shared this pic from high above Hersheypark. Send us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
DUI CHARGES: Former Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol following a two-car crash in Scranton on Saturday, Spotlight PA and The Inquirer report. Kane, 55, was a rising star in Democratic politics before her 2016 conviction on perjury, official oppression, and other counts. It's unclear if the pending DUI charges will affect Kane's probation.

PLUG PLAN: Pennsylvania could see nearly $400 million in federal funds to plug more than 15,000 abandoned, ownerless wells — a development cheered by environmental advocates in a state with one of the highest concentrations of such wells in the country. But the Post-Gazette reports the once-in-a-generation opportunity could face a problem: the state program in charge says it's running out of money.

TECH TAXES: A tax break meant to bring more IT server farms to Pennsylvania now counts a Gwyneth Paltrow-linked Bitcoin mining operation in Luzerne County as one of its newest beneficiaries. Capital-Star reports Nautilus Cryptomine's involvement in the expanded tax exemption program, worth $5 million in 2021 and likely $90 million by 2027, is renewing skepticism of similar state giveaways.

CRISIS CALLS: Several Allegheny County police departments now have social workers or interns embedded with police, part of a much broader trend toward more nuanced forms of crisis response, especially when mental health issues are involved. PublicSource reports the approach is quickly earning the support of officers in places like Wilkinsburg, where Police Chief Ophelia Coleman is a firm believer.

'WARM HANDOFFS': Hospitalizations from drug overdoses rose in Pennsylvania during the pandemic, and so did "warm handoffs," per CNHI, meaning the direct transfers of overdose survivors from hospitals to long-term treatment. For those in need of specialized opioid treatment programs in Pennsylvania, the Pew Research Center found gaps around language, mental health services, and medication.
PIVOTAL PLAN: The plan that will guide public and private investments in the crucial Pittsburgh neighborhood of Oakland for years to come has been drafted, per Pitt News, and public feedback is being taken through April 6. PublicSource has an update on two of the big local projects on deck.

EV EVERYWHERE: Electric vehicle charging stations are popping up across Pennsylvania thanks to $2.2 million in state grants. Green Philly has a list of the newest locations — Wawa, Sheetz, and more — while StateImpact explains the "range anxiety" felt by Pennsylvania's EV drivers.

CYBER ATTACK: A "sophisticated" cyber attack that targeted the Altoona Area School District reportedly leaked private teacher information and publicly available student information on the dark web, WJAC reports. 

TOSS UP: A flood-prone Tionesta bridge that is sometimes completely underwater has been dubbed "the little bridge that could." Wondering day-to-day if it will be passable has become a local spring tradition.

HEATING HELP: With heating bills high and set to rise, note that Pennsylvania is now accepting applications for its home heating bill assistance program. Find eligibility rules and application forms here.
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

*This week's theme: Math words
Yesterday's answer: Permutation

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Becky C., Mike B., Bonnie R., Michelle T., Jodi R., Susan N.-Z., Al M., Don H., Vicki U., George S., Kevin H., Kimberly S., Elaine C., Susan D., Jude M., Bill S., Elizabeth W., Dianne K., James B., Kyle C., and Pat B.
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