In recent years, it has become clear that America's infrastructure is in desperate need of repair. Both federal and state governments have begun to focus more attention on maintenance and rehabilitation of deteriorating roads and bridges, though have failed to fully address this growing challenge. The problem of how to improve the infrastructure, particularly in the face of shrinking budgets, is a challenge for government at all levels. The Timber Bridge Program for Local Government is an attempt to utilize existing natural resources that are low cost to improve local bridge infrastructure.
The principal purpose of this program is to advance local bridge projects that have been delayed for too long due to an ever decreasing local capital budgeting. This program will become increasingly important as the full effects of the loss of Federal Revenue Sharing come to bear on municipal managers. The decision to delay bridge improvements is saving local funds in the short run, but it is also inhibiting economic development in these communities by causing existing industry to detour, adding to product costs passed on to the consumer.
The scope of this effort is very broad: in Pennsylvania alone, 2,639 local governments exist, many with bridge needs. These bridges were erected using mainly untreated wood that decayed over time due to the weathering process and insect damage. The Timber Bridge Program for Local Government develops the use of stressed timber bridges, which are constructed in "panels" at the fabrication plant where they are treated. These panels are then transported to the site where they are "stressed" together with other panels using hydraulic equipment. This type of bridge has also been constructed for several years but has not been officially approved by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). Until AASHTO approval is received, these bridges are still constructed as demonstration bridges. The municipality takes a risk of liability when demonstration bridges are constructed. Therefore, this program is also aimed at addressing the approval process through research and testing of this bridge building method.
The most direct achievement of the Timber Bridge Program to date has been the fact that by the end of 1988, Milford Township will have completed its bridge program with all of the six bridges rebuilt with savings approaching $400,000 for in-kind steel or concrete structures.