July 31, 2008

One Year Later, Little Progress

From staff and wire reports


A year after the worst U.S. bridge collapse in a generation brought calls for immediate repairs to other spans, two of every three of the busiest problem bridges in each state - carrying nearly 40 million vehicles a day - have had no work beyond regular maintenance.

An Associated Press review of repairs on each state's 20 most- traveled bridges with structural deficiencies found just 12 percent have been fixed. In most states, the most common approach was to plan for repairs later rather than fix problems now.

The bridges reviewed by the AP - 1,020 in all - are not in imminent danger of collapse, state engineers and highway officials say. But the officials acknowledge the structures need improvement, many sooner rather than later.

The collapse of the eight-lane Interstate 35W bridge into the Mississippi River on Aug. 1, 2007, killed 13 people and brought immediate calls for repairs to bridges across the nation.

The failure to follow through was not because of lack of effort, officials said. Soaring construction costs, budget shortages, election-year politics, a backlog of bridge projects, competing highway repairs and bureaucracy often held bridge work to incremental progress.

The AP gathered information on repair status from 48 states and Washington, D.C. In six states, data could not be obtained for some locally owned bridges. Louisiana and Nevada failed to respond.

The worst were Indiana, Oklahoma, New Hampshire and South Carolina, where work was conducted on only one of each state's 20 most heavily traveled structurally deficient bridges.

"At some point, relying on miracles is not going to be the best way to manage our system," said Pete Rahn, the transportation commissioner of Missouri. "I would pray we don't have to have another disaster to bring about the right attention to this. I see very little political will there."

A study released earlier this month by the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission showed that more than one-fourth of the region's bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, some of the worst concentrated in Chesapeake and Southampton County. Of 1,237 bridges, 338 are either in need of repairs or don't meet modern standards.

The ratings do not necessarily mean the bridges are unsafe, transportation experts stressed. The study also says Hampton Roads fares better than the state and the nation in terms of percentage of deficient bridges.

This story was compiled from reports by The Associated Press and staff writer Debbie Messina.


An Associated Press review of repairs on each state's 20 most- traveled bridges with structural deficiencies found:

* Sixty-four percent of the bridges received no work beyond regular maintenance, though most were targeted for some kind of future work.

* Twelve percent had their structural defects fixed - usually through a major rehabilitation or outright replacement.

* An additional 24 percent have seen a partial improvement, either through a short-term repair to temporarily address the defect or an ongoing project that is not yet complete.

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