16.9.13

WISHFUL THINKING.

Highway commissioners have been deferring bridge maintenance, and it's showing.
An Associated Press review of national bridge records found that some 7,795 bridges nationwide are classed as both “fracture critical” and “structurally deficient,” a combination that experts say is especially problematic.

The first designation refers to bridges that were designed with no redundant protections, putting them at risk of collapse if a single, vital component fails. The “structurally deficient” label is attached to bridges that need rehabilitation or replacement because at least one major component has advanced deterioration or other problems that have led inspectors to deem its condition “poor” or worse.

The most recent federal data available identifies 189 such bridges scattered around Illinois.
Move along, though, nothing to see.
“We don’t feel that the public should be worried,” said Carl Puzey, chief of Illinois’ Bureau of Bridges and Structures, which subjects fracture critical bridges to a more intensive inspections regime than the rest of the state’s roughly 26,000 bridges.

“In very rare cases, if it’s necessary to ensure the safety of the traveling public, we will close the bridge. So, if a bridge is open, it’s safe,” he said.
Famous last words?
The main problem in battling the maintenance backlog is money. It takes hundreds of millions of dollars – sometimes as much as $1 billion – to replace a major crossing with a heavy traffic load.

Federal fuel taxes, a main source of highway funds, do not keep pace with inflation and have not been raised since 1993. Meanwhile, politicians in control of scarce funds are often more keen to take credit for brand new facilities than to support something as un-sexy as bridge maintenance.
The role of triple trailers, 53 foot trailers, and overweight trailers in subjecting the roads and bridges to greater live loads doesn't seem to come up. You'd think, though, that there might be some way for public officials to get the truckers to kick in additional money to provide contemporary bridges with sufficient load-carrying capability, and then the politicians will have plenty of ribbons to cut.

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