The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Gary Grossman

July 7, 2013

A bypass too far

Let’s face it. Veterans Memorial Bridge is designed to kill people on both ends and in the middle and the fact that so few die represents the triumph of human courtesy, caution and quickness over civil engineering.

It has feeder ramps and exit ramps coming and leaving in polar opposites, two waves of opposing traffic on four lanes where, for 3,000 feet of pavement and desperation, drivers crisscross out of necessity, opportunity and adventure as they aim for their destination or seek the advantage of a few car lengths.

Those landing on the western bank have a choice of another crisscross going north or a squeeze into what is regularly bumper-to-bumper traffic headed south.

Close to 10 million vehicles cross the Susquehanna River on that bridge every year, mainly during a few hours in the morning and one hour in the evening, condensing the probabilities that at least one fellow traveler will be confused, inattentive, inebriated, inexperienced or expressing road rage with a truck. Texting has not improved matters.

PennDOT is busily borrowing two feet of space from existing lanes to create a median, which should be an immense improvement.

Public safety might be further enhanced by some cleverly timed technology that automates, triggers and generates photographic evidence of speeding violations. That would eliminate some derring-do from the crossing, to everybody’s benefit.

Elsewhere in the Valley, this summer seems like one giant detour as paving and bridge work has sealed off Mifflinburg, Selinsgrove, Danville, Sunbury, Beavertown, McClure and Kratzerville. Well, not entirely. As they said even before the bridge repair, “uphill and downhill, that’s the way to Kratzerville.”

This attention or disruption is temporary. Studies show 98.7 percent of us are coping with it just fine, substituting caution, courtesy and safety for convenience, allowing other drivers into the lane every other car, waiting our turn at busy intersections and waving a thank you to all who yield space and time as we enter the flow.

(I just lied. There are no studies. It sounds more authoritative to write that “studies show” than to offer mere personal observation. If your personal observations reach a different conclusion, you may be right.)

Actual studies show that 50 percent of our bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete in Pennsylvania and that 44 percent of our roads need work — basically twice the level of deterioration drivers encounter on Ohio and Maryland bridges and Ohio roads. Maryland keeps its roads equally poor or mediocre, so Ocean City vacationers from Pennsylvania won’t notice the difference.

Actual statistics also show that the Valley receives a better level of bridge repair than many regions of the state. Maybe we have shorter bridges, more of them or just more dedicated PennDOT people. In any case, we are luckier in that regard.

There is one highly publicized exception. As even casual readers of the newspaper know, the Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway has been a project for 40 years — supported by commerce, initiated by previous administrations and partly baked in terms of planning, conceptual design and property acquisition.

This was our spring of greater optimism. The stars were aligned. Our governor (studies show) found his most loyal supporters in Central Pennsylvania. Transportation was his signature issue. He proposed a “decade of investment.” The Thruway was ripe.

Legislation was drafted, with the Thruway as a centerpiece. Nearly $558 million was written into a measure that would fund the 12.5 miles over the next 10 years. That sped through committee and emerged full throated from the state Senate with whelming support, only to run into roadblocks in the state House.

It comes down to this. There are vast amounts of work to be done throughout the state on existing road and bridge repairs. There is also little money available to do it.

A plan that relied upon every Pennsylvanian accepting 25-28 cents more a gallon in gasoline prices to generate revenue has to spread the return on investment across the commonwealth. The Thruway was too big a chunk — some $558 million in a $1.8 billion plan.

We may not like that. But if we are fair-minded, we can see it — and we could have seen it coming.


Text Only
Gary Grossman
  • A grip on the bottom rung

    Every once in a while, someone will tell me that we do not know the real story the way they do and that we have painted a distorted picture for the reading public.
    We mostly know the available story, the accessible story and, occasionally, a little more than the average Joe or Jane about the true story.

    July 26, 2014

  • Who throws rocks at cars?

    Although we manufacture and deliver a product, newspapering is a service industry. It is appropriate for people in service to show deference and respect for customers.

    July 20, 2014

  • High noon on Mile Post Road

    A fight that ended with deadly force on Mile Post Road this week outside of Sunbury involved the acting police chief, a respected officer, proud family man and solid community member who often opens local ceremonies with a professional and full-throated rendition of the National Anthem.

    July 13, 2014

  • Good golly, Miss Flouncy

    Miss Flouncy Bighair stood out among the several dozen targets brought down by a trooper’s radar gun, assembled that day in a sterile district court off Route 50 in Talbot County.

    July 6, 2014

  • Preponderance of chaos

    Here is the thing about newspapers: We do not yet know what we will become, only what we can no longer be. That is unnerving at times for people who like routine, pattern, tradition and predictability. And who doesn’t, dagnabbit!

    June 29, 2014

  • Throw the book at ’em

    Where population is too sparse to support art galleries, museums, concert halls and stage plays with ticket sales, public libraries are windows to culture and a center for discussion and engagement for many Pennsylvanians.

    June 23, 2014

  • Doctors following orders

    Once upon a time, I worked in a cubicle farm amid doctors and nurses who greatly admired the Veteran Health Administration for its innovative approach to patient safety.

    June 1, 2014

  • Promises to be kept

    Long after the bugles played and the flags were folded, there was the apology. It was 20 years in coming.

    The man was old, 79. It was time.

    May 25, 2014

  • Things weren't picking up

    I once belonged to a Rotary club that adopted a few miles of busy highway in an anti-litter campaign. Wearing luminous vests and work gloves, we would wander the roadside, wrestling Styrofoam cups from brambles and pitching cans and bottles into giant orange plastic garbage bags.

    May 11, 2014

  • Thirsty boots, no more

    Generally, business people steer clear of the big divide, which is race. The same is true of gender, age, religion, political preference and sexual orientation.
    If there is a sure lose-lose proposition for making a buck in America, it is a headlong dive into our national neuroses. We all realize the “one nation, indivisible” is more of a prayer than an oath and always has been.

    April 27, 2014