A Bridge (Plan) To Nowhere

Bridge Repair

Pennsylvania, as I have noted on occasion, is a very old state in many ways. It is not unique in that regard – there are other ancient states in the United States – but in fact a lot of stuff we use each day here is…old.

No shame in that…unless we’re talking bridges.

For as long as I’ve been alive the subject of aging bridges has been at the top of the agenda each year when the Commonwealth annually reviews what needs immediate attention.

It will be staying at the top of the annual agenda for a long, long, long time. At least as long as some of these bridges have been around…bridges I need not (but will anyway) remind you a lot of people drive across daily.

The residents of Chester County (a group including my wife and I) were recently notified vehicle owners will be required to pay a $5 additional charge each year – per car or truck –when annual Pennsylvania vehicle registration comes due. This is to help fund bridge repairs and reconstruction within the County. No problem there. Not a lot of money. Always glad to help improve our quality of life. Sounds like a plan.

These additional funds collected by Pennsylvania on Chester County’s behalf will be set aside in an account exclusive to County use. The County will then use those funds, estimated to be just north of $2 million, for those bridges deemed as “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete.”

It should be noted we’ve been reassured these classifications don’t mean the bridges can’t support traffic. A curious choice of words if that’s the case. I need not (but will anyway) remind you those definitions apply to bridges a lot of people drive across daily.

I don’t know about you but “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete” works much better for me when we’re talking a line of dominoes or Legos…instead of a line of cars or trucks.

According to information compiled by the West Chester Daily Local News:

Chester County has 94 bridges (including two shared with other Counties).

The life span of the bridges is generally considered to be 50 years.

The County Facilities Department previously had a goal of restoring or replacing two bridges per year.

As they “stand” 57 of the bridges are over 75 years old and 31 are over 100 years old. Of the 94 bridges…34 fall into the “structurally deficient” definition while 61 rate “functionally obsolete.”

And as for the Facilities Department performance…Chester County has only been able to meet its goal of restoring or replacing two bridges per year 12 times since 1980.

In 12 other years no bridge work was done in the County at all.

Even with this new influx of cash the goal for these bridges has to also cross a bridge of rising construction costs. Therefore the new goal is now to restore or replace one and a half bridges in the County per year. (I don’t even know where to take this with a “half” a bridge…)

Forgive us if we start diverting around these structures. These numbers don’t support our lifespans being extended by driving over these spans.

We’re quite behind on all this but at least there’s a new plan. How do we ever catch up?

Well…let’s cross that bridge when we get to it.

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Supreme Court Squares – Republicans (And Democrats?) For The Block


(Image Credit Wikipedia.org)

In my last post I noted how the trend towards straight-ticket voting was helping to polarize politics and make it more “Us Versus Them” than ever in the US.

And then Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away over the weekend…

(Sidebar – he was 79. As for references to his “sudden passing” this isn’t the first time I’ve noted such language in obituaries and other articles about a man his age. Folks, that’s the life expectancy for males in our country. There is an expiration date on us all even if we aren’t living in a hospital or care facility. By all accounts Justice Scalia lived a full and rewarding life. RIP.)

If you thought the country was split into two before…watch what happens next.

The Republicans didn’t wait but minutes after news of his death before predictably screaming how we should wait for over a year for the next President to be able to make the all-important nomination of his successor.

The President and fellow Democrats simultaneously, predictably screamed back they most certainly will make a Justice nomination and seek a successor immediately in order to continue to ensure the integrity and performance of this all-important branch of the US Government.

The first irony that comes to mind is the main reason (I think) of having Supreme Court appointments for life is to insure the integrity of the power of the Court and protect against interference from either the Legislative or Executive branches. That being said it should be noted a President nominates Justices and the Legislative branch approves or disapproves.

That sounds like interference to me…checks-and-balances to others, I suppose.

The second irony is you hear Republicans indicating we have to hold off on replacing Justice Scalia because the American people should have a say in who sits on the Supreme Court. Please. All we’re going to be doing (in November mind you) is electing a President who upon taking office (in January mind you) will make a Justice nomination (sometime next year mind you) and have it vigorously contested (immediately afterwards next year mind you) by the party who loses the Presidential election.

I would be remiss if not interjecting on this whole “job for life” thing I’ve always wondered how in touch Justices are as they advance in age…not only with present-day USA…but in general? And what if they did something really stupid or illegal while serving at any age…can you imagine the political circus of trying to impeach a Supreme Court Justice?

Good thing we’ve had Justices behave…and often retire without dying while serving.

The third irony is even if Republicans are rock-solid on locking out the vacancy being filled to see if they can reclaim the White House the President and fellow Democrats might be better off letting them take that position.

A divided court – and by all accounts the Court now is as “balanced” as can be based on prior decisions – favors the President and his party in that with only eight Justices split decisions are inevitable. A divided Supreme Court leaves prior lower court rulings in place…and a large majority of the U.S. Courts of Appeals holds a majority of Democratic appointees. Further, there apparently is no law or policy about what the Supreme Court should do with cases already argued and voted on when a Justice dies. (Yes, you read that correctly – nada…)

If we take all the rhetoric out regarding either party’s desired timing for a replacement…and whether or not Justices even deserve a lifetime achievement award…the bottom line is a vacancy is now open on the highest Court in the land and the world doesn’t stop spinning.

Cases have been argued and voted on, heard, are to be heard and are to be argued and voted on. Important cases.

It is a disgrace of American politics we are possibly now going to leave the Supreme Court short of having a full complement of Justices for over a year regardless of whose “strategy” prevails. Political gridlock at its ugliest…over a unique position that helps shape, define and clarify the law of the land.

It is also a disgrace of American politics the nomination process for quite some time now has been about parsing ideology first, qualifications second. Whoever eventually gets this seat – assuming someone gets appointed someday – will do so primarily because of party leverage and/or because of how it is perceived they will rule on key issues more so than on whether or not their careers have truly distinguished themselves to be worthy of the lofty position of a Supreme Court Justice. The President and the Legislative branch members will all get their crystal balls out and first try to figure out who’s the “surest” bet to advance their respective agendas well before then considering a nominee’s true ability to honor and carry out the position on behalf of all Americans.

All. Americans.

Qualifications are unfortunately guaranteed to not be the top priority when considering our next Supreme Court Justice.

A job mind you…guaranteed for life.


Posted in Culture, Life, News, Opinion, Politics, Society, Supreme Court | Tagged , , , , , , | 38 Comments

Split Tickets Or Split Country – Straight-Ticket Voting Probably Polarizing

Political Discussion

(Image Credit MinnPost.com)

I rarely wade into the political pool but a column I read over the weekend provoked deep thought and consideration of others. Deep thought and consideration of others is not normally associated with our daily political news and hasn’t been for some time. Quite frankly I think many people are interested in politics more so now for the reality show aspect.

You come across an accident scene…it’s admittedly hard to turn away.

People seem to be watching the Democratic and Republican Presidential debates but it can’t be because they care about the issues of the day because the candidates rarely discuss the issues of the day. They’re way too busy insulting and yelling at each other…and most certainly degrading the other party at every opportunity.

Anyway, whatever your current take on politics is there has been an interesting trend which may help explain why we can’t seem to get compromise or agreement towards moving forward with issues in Washington and have instead become consumed with ripping everyone involved…about why we can’t seem to get compromise or agreement towards moving forward with issues in Washington.

Terry Madonna and Michael Young are highly respected political analysts who have pointed out we have become a nation of “ideologically driven, politically polarized partisans who increasingly eschew the bargaining and compromise that have historically lubricated politics. Not only are moderates gone from American politics; moderation is gone as well. Nothing illustrates this better or explains this more fully than the enormous decrease in ticket-splitting.”

For those of us doing it without even knowing it had a name…we’re talking here about the act of voting for a Presidential nominee of one party while also voting for one or more Congressional nominees of a different party. Madonna and Young report ticket-splitting dropped to a record low in the 2012 Presidential election. One study estimated at least 8 of 10 voters voted a one-party, straight-ticket. As recently as the Presidential election in 1972 more than 4 of every 10 Congressional districts – 44 percent – were characterized as ticket-splitters – voting for one party’s candidate for President and one or more candidates from the other party for the Senate or House.

In House districts alone now…the most recent number stands at 5 percent.

This straight-ticket voting – whatever cause you would like to attribute it to – positions our nation perfectly for a polarized political landscape.

And with no compromise or agreement towards moving forward with issues in Washington the true irony is we voters who have become completely perplexed with our government’s stalemate have potentially had the power all along to jump-start movement…injecting checks-and-balances in government by electing people…not parties. Or as Madonna and Young put it…

“Straight-ticket voting produces elections that only increase the virulent polarization infecting our politics. Worse perhaps, it undercuts ever further the compromise and accommodation so central to our intricate governmental system of checks and balances – inevitably unleashing more of the divisive and dysfunctional governance that increasingly alienates American voters from their government.”

Something to ponder as this 2016 Presidential reality show rolls out across America…and for future Washington-eligible elections thereafter.

Sounds like those of us looking for Washington to get things moving again might consider examining each and every contest carefully that sends someone to Washington and considering there are more qualifications to consider aside from just one – which party they belong to.

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