Ben Simmoneau reports…

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Pennsylvania must spend more on its structurally deficient bridges and roadway infrastructure or it will pay a much heftier price down the road, according to the state’s top government watchdog.

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On Tuesday, Auditor General Jack Wagner called on lawmakers and the governor to invest in the state’s transportation infrastructure now, saying it will increase safety and create thousands of jobs in a sluggish economy. Wagner says if the state doesn’t address the $3.5 billion in transportation improvements awaiting funding, the price tag will double to $7.2 billion in a decade.

In his remarks, Wagner cited two independent reports, including one that ranked the Philadelphia area the third worst nationally in the percentage of deficient bridges. Pittsburgh came in first in that survey, released by Transportation for America, an advocacy group for transportation issues. Lancaster, Harrisburg and Allentown all ranked in the worst ten among smaller metropolitan areas.

In fact, four years after a catastrophic bridge collapse in Minnesota, Eyewitness News has learned the Philadelphia region still has more than 500 structurally deficient bridges, spanning all corners of the city and the suburbs. Those bridges are used by millions of vehicles every day, and it could be years to come before PennDOT is able to significantly diminish that number.

“We are definitely aware of the condition of the bridges,” said Les Toaso, the PennDOT district executive in charge of the five county Philadelphia region. “We do monitor them closely.”

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On a one to 100 scale as scored by PennDOT, some of the region’s bridges still rate in the single digits. Others scored higher but are visibly in need of serious repair. The City Avenue bridge over the SEPTA regional rail tracks near the Bala station scored a 28 but has gaping holes, copious amounts of exposed rebar and nets to catch falling concrete.

PennDOT says it’s doing what it can with limited funds.

“Right now, we have 80 bridge contracts out at a total of $1.2 billion in contract prices,” Toaso said. “We need $332 million a year just to keep up with what we have.”

Since 2007, PennDOT has managed to reduce the number of structurally deficient bridges in the five county Philadelphia region from 604 to 532. But it’s not clear how much further that number will drop, because Governor Tom Corbett has said a new transportation funding plan is not a priority of his. And that’s something that the Auditor General says is a mistake.

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Reported by Ben Simmoneau, CBS3