In late January, the Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Ten people were injured after the bridge fell into the ravine in Frick Park during an early weekday morning. In the wake of the collapse, it became clear that many tried to raise the alarm over the bridge’s state, but nothing was done. Residents posted concerning images of structural damage on social media, and bridge inspectors recommended repairs. Now, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is making the inspector’s notes on all reports not accessible to the general public.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that PennDOT has removed the inspection notes for over 20,000 bridges across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Bridges in the state are given two different ratings in PennDOT’s inspection reports. The bridges as a whole are rated Poor, Fair or Good. There’s also a deck rating on a scale of zero to nine, where nine is excellent, and zero is a bridge failure. The notes that supplement the rates are the real meat-and-potatoes of the reports as they detail the bridge’s damage and recommend a course of action.
The western Pennsylvanian newspaper has posted a recent version of the entire inspection database, in which over 3,000 bridges are rated Poor.
PennDOT has stated that it removed the information because the agency feels the data being publicly available posed a security risk. Cheryl Moon-Sirianni, a PennDOT executive, told the Post-Gazette, “You wouldn’t believe the folks that want to do harm and try to do things to hurt others and we’re reluctant to put inspection reports out there that would show there’s a weakness in a structure, for fear that someone might do something at that location.”
The idea that someone would use inspection data to plan a terrorist attack is ridiculous. Based on the inspection data and recent events, a driver is far more likely to be harmed by the bridge failing on its own. People should be able to find out the state of the bridges they are driving over and use that information to advocate for repairs and better infrastructure in general.