Sunday, August 5, 2007

Officials to examine Texas bridges

By CHRISTY HOPPE - The Dallas Morning News - Fri., Aug. 3, 2007
Texas officials expressed confidence in the state's bridge inspection program Thursday but promised a quick response to the federal government's call to immediately inspect all bridges similar to the Minneapolis span that collapsed into the Mississippi River.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters signed off on an advisory that was sent by the Federal Highway Administration urging state transportation departments to conduct inspections of bridges similar to the collapsed steel-deck truss bridge. Officials said there are about 700 such bridges.

Chris Lippincott, a governmental liaison for the Texas Department of Transportation, said late Thursday that there are more than 30 such bridges on major state highways in Texas, and probably more on city and county roads.

Mr. Lippincott said that he was unaware of the federal alert but that Texas would follow such a directive.

"If we receive notification from the Federal Highway Administration to inspect a class of bridges, we will do so as quickly as possible. This will be in addition to our regular and aggressive inspection process," he said.

Before the alert, Texas officials had said they planned no stepped-up inspections, even as governors across the nation ordered their engineers to begin new assessments in light of Wednesday's tragedy in Minnesota.

Mark Cross, spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation, said Texas, which has more bridges than any other state -- 49,829 as of 2006 -- now inspects all of them at least once every two years. Bridges in more critical condition are checked more often, he said, and because of the recent heavy rains, bridge inspections have been a top priority to ensure their structural soundness.

"We are on top of that," Mr. Cross said.

Top state bridge engineer Randy Cox said that although Texas has bridges of truss design similar to the Minneapolis bridge, there's no inherent additional danger.

In Missouri, Massachusetts and New Jersey, governors ordered new rounds of bridge inspections. Nationally, 12 percent of bridges are categorized as "structurally deficient," meaning they are deteriorating. In Texas, 4 percent of all bridges -- 2,125 -- are so categorized. Of those in Texas, 2 percent, or 483 bridges, are on major thoroughfares.

Last year, Texas issued 178 contracts for major bridge reconstruction and repair, including 17 in the Dallas area. In all, $489 million was spent for replacement and rehabilitation of bridges, according to a 2006 report on the condition of bridges put together by the Texas Department of Transportation.

Mr. Cross said older infrastructure "is a challenge" throughout the state and nation, but Texas has worked hard to identify problems and systematically repair problems.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

According to the state's 2006 report on the condition of Texas bridges:

*Texas has 49,829 bridges. That doesn't include private, pedestrian, railroad, utility or federally owned spans. The total is 40 percent more than any other state.

*Roughly 19 percent of all Texas bridges were built before 1950. Thirty-five percent were built from 1950 to 1970.

*As of last September, 2,125 bridges (4 percent of the total) were classified as "structurally deficient," meaning they have been closed or have deteriorated to a point that the load-bearing capacity is below the originally intended maximum.

*Dallas County had 10 state-maintained bridges that were structurally deficient. Collin County had one and Denton County, five. Tarrant County had 36.
*Dallas County had 24 locally-maintained bridges that were structurally deficient. Collin County had seven, Denton County had 32, and Tarrant, 34.

*Rockwall County had no structurally deficient bridges in either category.

*The state's improvement plan is chipping away at the number of deficient bridges. In 2000, the state had 758 deficient, state-maintained bridges; last year there were 483.

*Last fiscal year, the state allotted $50.5 million for bridge maintenance.

*Last year, at least 73,533 of the nation's 607,363 bridges, or about 12 percent, were classified as "structurally deficient," according to the Federal Highway Administration. These bridges carry a daily average of more than 300 million vehicles.

*Repairing them all would take at least a generation and cost more than $188 billion, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. That works out to at least $9.4 billion a year over 20 years.

*According to the Federal Highway Administration, 83 percent of the bridges in the U.S. Highway Bridge Inventory are inspected every two years. About 12 percent, those in bad shape, are inspected annually, and 5 percent, those in very good shape, every four years.
*An analysis of 2006 Federal Highway Administration data found that Minnesota bridges were generally in better shape than those in other states. Only about 6 percent of the state's bridges were listed as being structurally deficient. Nearly 27 percent of Oklahoma's bridges were cited by the federal government as being structurally deficient, the nation's highest percentage.

*Of the 10 worst-off counties for bridges, seven are in Oklahoma or Nebraska. On the other end of the scale, at least 10 counties with a significant number of bridges have none that are structurally deficient, according to the latest government statistics. Six of those are in Texas.

Associated Press

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