I-Team: Bad Bridges - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

I-Team: Bad Bridges

Posted: Updated: Nov 20, 2013 10:41 PM
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) -

Chances are, you drive over one of the more than 13,000 bridges in Louisiana, everyday.  

While many are in good shape, 13.6% of the Bayou State's bridges are considered structurally deficient.  That means at least one of the three key parts of a bridge has a major defect.  

"There are actually more deficient bridges in our metro areas than there are McDonald's locations throughout the country," said David Goldberg, communications director for the research group Transportation for America.

Since 2008, the organization has looked through bridge inspection reports from across the country focusing on those that are structurally deficient or have other problems.  They released their report this year.

"Louisiana ranks 13th overall in terms of deficient bridges," said Goldberg.  "That is above the national average and 1,798 or your bridges are in need of some level of repair and close monitoring because they're structurally deficient."

The three key components to a bridge are broken down into the substructure, superstructure and deck.  The substructure is what holds it up or the pilings in the water.  The superstructure goes on top of that and supports the deck.  The deck is the part people drive on.  If any of the three are rated four or less on a scale of 1 to 10, it is considered structurally deficient.

Since 2011, 15 states across the country have had an increase in the number of deficient bridges.  Louisiana is one of them.  

Nearly 29,000 cars use the Airline Hwy at Jefferson bridge every day.  It's 60 years old.  The ratings on those three parts of his bridge are all four or below.  
Deck: 4
Superstructure: 4
Substructure: 3

Not far away is a bridge on Flannery Rd. just before Choctaw Dr. that was built nearly 50 years ago.  more than 10 thousand cars take this route everyday.  it has a super and substructure of 3.
Deck: 6
Superstructure: 3
Substructure: 3

"What does a substructure 3 mean?" asked WAFB's Kiran Chawla.
"It doesn't mean that it's going to fall down but it does mean that it needs pretty urgent attention and close monitoring," said Goldberg.

The bridge in Ascension Parish on Airline Highway was built nearly 60 years ago.  More than 10,000 cars travel the bridge everyday.  It's labeled as structurally deficient.
Deck: 6
Superstructure: N
Substructure: 3

In West Baton Rouge Parish on Court St. is an 83-yr-old bridge.  Thousands of people drive over it everyday.
Deck: 6
Superstructure: 6
Substructure: 2

The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, or DOTD, is responsible for monitoring, repairing or replacing state bridges.  Rodney Mallett is the DOTD communications director.

"If I hear a bridge is structurally deficient, I kind of assume that maybe I shouldn't be going over this bridge," said Chawla.
"And that's not true," said Mallett.

Mallett said deficient means something on the bridge requires attention.  For example, corrosion on a metal support beam or with all the timber bridges in Louisiana, a wooden piece that's rotted.  

"It is considered structurally deficient and needs to have that part replaced.  That does not mean the bridge is unsafe," said Mallett.

If a bridge was considered unsafe, Mallett said DOTD would immediately shut it down.  Currently, 30 bridges around the state are out of commission because they are unsafe.  

While David Goldberg with Transportation for America said many bridges around the state are deteriorating because of a lack of funding, Mallett counters that over the past five years, Louisiana has actually spent a billion dollars on its bridges repairing, monitoring or replacing them.

While the state is fully aware of which bridges are in bad shape, they will not provide a list of all bridges and their current conditions claiming that information should not be public.  Goldberg disagrees.

"The transportation agencies are required to submit those to the federal highway administration," said Goldberg.
"My legal staff has told me that I can't give locations or bridge inspection reports because of a state law," said Mallett.
"It says you can't be required to disclose information.  It does not prevent you from disclosing information," said Chawla.
"I was told if I provided that information, I would be in violation of state law," said Mallett.

Part of the state's concern is that sensitive information could be obtained by the wrong people, but the head of the Federal Highway Administration said that kind of information should be public and does not make critical information available to terrorists.  He added that how states spend money to fix bridges is of legitimate public interest.

"The point here is not to alarm people and make you fear for yourself when you cross these bridges, but it is to point out that we have a big and growing need to keep on top of this aging infrastructure," said Goldberg.

DOTD said the bridge on Flannery Rd. and the one in Ascension Parish on Airline Hwy. are both scheduled to be replaced in the coming years.  For a link to find out which bridges, if any, are deficient around you, click here:   

http://t4america.org/resources/bridges/infographic/

Copyright 2013 WAFB. All rights reserved.

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