Red circles on a road map of Northeast Pennsylvania, each depicting a bridge that will face weight restrictions unless it is repaired, look like an outbreak of measles. And the economic results of failing to repair the failing highway infrastructure could be just as contagious.

PennDOT has put some physical perspective into the Legislature's numbers-oriented debate over a badly needed transportation and mass transit funding program. It identified 123 bridges across Northeast Pennsylvania, that must be repaired or subjected to weight restrictions. In Bradford County alone, 45 bridges have been identified as structurally deficient. Ten in nearby Sullivan County.

Safety is the overriding issue for any bridge, as illustrated recently when a chunk of decorative concrete fell from a bridge through a the windshield of a car on an expressway in Scranton.

But weight restrictions in the cause of that safety, while necessary, would come at a high price. Some are on routes that carry a large amount of heavy truck traffic. Many others are along rural routes that serve the region's large agricultural sector, including heavy milk tankers, as well as water tankers being used in the natural gas industry.

Statewide, more than 4,000 bridges need substantial repairs, more than in any other state.

Just as the failure to repair the bridges would harm the economy, seeing to the work would help it. The state Senate estimates that its transportation program to increase funding by $2.5 billion a year would create up to 50,000 jobs in direct construction and throughout the long construction supply chain, while preserving untold existing jobs by ensuring a sound transportation network.

All improvements carry costs and the highway/bridge/transit program would be no different. It would be funded by increases in registration and license fees and by a back-door increase in the gasoline tax (by eliminating a cap on the wholesale tax) that could reach 28 cents a gallon by the end of the fifth year.

Yet the improvement bills have strong support from transportation industries and other economic development interests because the costs of inaction will be even higher.

The Legislature should approve the most comprehensive program possible.