How safe are our bridges

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 3, 2007

With the tragic collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minnesota, many are left wondering exactly how safe the structures actually are.

Deficiencies in the I-35 bridge were noted in studies from both 2001 and 2005.

The bridge was listed as &uot;structurally deficient&uot; and yet nothing was done to correct the problem.

The Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald contacted the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to see which, if any, bridges in the local region are in poor shape.

It was discovered that the Monk Harrington Bridge in Bertie County over the Roanoke River on NC 11 is listed as structurally deficient.

It was given a 40 out of 100 rating, the lowest of the major bridges in the area.

In addition, the Cashie River Bridge on US 17 (King Street) in Windsor was given a functionally obsolete status. Its rating was the third lowest at 49.

The &uot;Three Rivers Bridge&uot; on NC 45 had the second lowest with 41, but did not receive the structurally deficient label.

All other bridges in the region were given ratings in the 70s or higher, except the bigger part of the NC 35 Meherrin River Bridge at Severn in Northampton County, which earned a 66.

According to Jerry Jennings, acting division engineer with the NCDOT, each bridge within the state is inspected every two years.

&uot;The involves a very thorough inspection in accordance with federal standards,&uot; Jennings said.

He continued, &uot;Data is then analyzed and that’s what is used to develop the bridge and inspection rating, then if any repairs are needed it is put on the list for repair.&uot;

The Cashie River Bridge that is listed as functionally obsolete is scheduled for replacement in the coming years.

There are currently no plans to replace or repair the structurally deficient Monk Harrington Bridge.

However, just being called structurally deficient does not mean the bridge is unsafe, according to Jennings.

&uot;Those ratings don’t mean that the bridges are unsafe… it takes into consideration a lot of factors, including design of the structure as it relates to current standards, as well as the condition of the bridge,&uot; he stated.

Jennings also said that there are dedicated bridge inspectors whose only job is to go around and inspect bridges.

The inspectors look at scour, the condition of concrete, the decks, and examine to see if there is any cracking or corrosion.

For more information on a specific bridge’s condition or general information on the inspection guidelines, call the NCDOT at 1-877-DOT-4-YOU.