The State of Our Bridges
Better Roads Staff
Texas has the most bridges in the nation, 51,808 including a combination of interstate and state and city/county/township bridges, and just 8,949, or 17 percent, are considered SD/FO combined. The Longhorn State has seen a 3-percent improvement in the number of overall SD/FO combined bridges during the past five years, down from 20 percent to the current 17 percent. Breaking down this year’s numbers, 7,480 (14 percent) are SD and 1,469 (3 percent) are FO.
The D.C. Conundrum
It is the nation’s capital that has the highest percentage of combined SD/FO bridges. But the numbers come with some explanations – and perhaps more importantly a disagreement about definitions – from the District of Columbia’s DOT (DDOT).
Of the 199 total interstate and state bridges in the District of Columbia, 122 (61 percent) are SD/FO. (The designation for city/county/township bridges is not applicable because the entire city of Washington, D.C., is treated as a state.) Last year, 123, or 62 percent, of the District’s bridges were considered SD or FO, 7 percent more than in 2009, but down 1 percent of total SD/FO interstate and state bridges from 2010 to 2011.
Availability of funding remains one of the biggest challenges in reducing the rate of SD bridges, notes DDOT’s Don Cooney. Cooney noted this in his survey response to Better Roads in 2010 and repeated this sentiment again in this year’s survey. However, in a follow-up interview with DDOT after the Better Roads Bridge Inventory surveys were tabulated, Ronaldo Nicholson, chief engineer of DDOT, says the percentages don’t always tell the full story. Technically, the bridges in D.C. classified as FO don’t meet current American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) standards. “We are talking primarily the national highway system to meet the definition of FO,” Nicholson says. “That definition is in conflict with what the District is trying to do in terms of mobility. Our goal is to provide multimodal transportation.”
One problem is that D.C. is an urban area. Nicholson says DDOT doesn’t have the ability to widen some of the bridges and bring them up to the current AASHTO standards, and for that reason they are being classified as FO. The real estate isn’t available, he says. “I have to decrease lane width to have more access for bikes and pedestrians or for a shared pathway,” Nicholson points out. “So we are meeting our multimodal efforts, but we are still falling technically within the definition of functionally obsolete.”
But reducing the number of FO bridges will always be problematic. “Addressing FO bridges is a bigger problem because of our limited right-of-way,” Nicholson says. “Being functionally obsolete doesn’t mean that the bridges are less safe or functional. They just are not being used the way [for which] they were originally intended. Because we are in an urban environment, we do want people to slow down.”
This is just part of a much larger problem, Nicholson says. He suggests that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and/or AASHTO need to relook at the definition of FO. “As a standing member for the committee of Bridges and Structures for AASHTO,” Nicholson says, “it’s time the states and DOTs relook at the definitions because they give a false perception to the general public about the health of our bridges.”
Nicholson says that, of the 12 percent of SD bridges in D.C., the agency is replacing about half of those. “Seven of our bridges will be coming off the SD list,” he says. “This year, we have already addressed five of those bridges, and two more are planned by the end of the year. We are not Texas or California. We only have 199 bridges. If I take 10 bridges off of the list, it takes the number of SD bridges down significantly.”
The rest of the rankings
Rhode Island is next in the highest percentage of reported SD/FO combined bridges. Taking the No. 2 spot – as it did last year – 371, or 49 percent, of the East Coast state’s total 751 bridges are SD/FO combined. This is a slight drop from last year. In 2010, Rhode Island reported that 417, or 53 percent of 789 total bridges were SD or FO. This year, the state reported that 296, or 49 percent, of its 607 total interstate and state bridges are SD/FO (combined). On a local level, 75 of 144 total city/county/township bridges, that’s 52 percent, are SD/FO combined.
So, there is some improvement from last year when Rhode Island reported 54 percent – 341 – of its 634 total interstate and state bridges in FO or SD condition – and 49 percent – 76 of 155 – of total city/county/township bridges in SD or FO condition.
The Aloha State ranks third for combined overall FO/SD bridges. Last year, Hawaii shared this ranking with Pennsylvania. This year, the State of Hawaii reported that it has 1,176 total bridges, and 449, or 38 percent, are SD/FO (combined). The state now has 773 total interstate and state bridges, and 301 – 39 percent – of them are combined SD/FO. Both of these percentages remain unchanged from 2010. On the municipal level, 37 percent, or 148 of Hawaii’s 403 total city/county/township bridges meet the classification for SD/FO (combined). This is a 1-percent increase from 2010, when 147 of the state’s municipal bridges met this definition.
New York State holds down the fourth-place spot for the highest percentage of total combined SD/FO bridges. At 37 percent, 6,405 of the Empire State’s 17,421 total bridges are considered SD/FO combined. In 2010, 37 percent of the state’s then total 17,405 bridges were SD/FO combined.
Breaking down the numbers, 39 percent, or 3,227 of the states total 8,344 interstate and state bridges are SD/FO (combined). This percentage is also the same as last year when New York had 8,335 total interstate and state bridges, nine fewer than this year, and 3,215 of the bridges met the combined SD/FO classification. In terms of city/county/township bridges, 35 percent, or 3,178 of the total 9,077 city/county/township bridges are SD/FO. Last year, 36 percent – 3,230 – of New York’s total city/county/township bridges were SD/FO (combined).
The fifth-highest percentage of overall combined SD/FO combined bridges is a tie between Connecticut and Pennsylvania, with both states reporting 36 percent of their total bridges in SD/FO condition. Last year, Connecticut was tied with West Virginia for the sixth-highest percentage of overall SD/FO bridges, with 36 percent of both state’s total bridges in SD/FO condition. West Virginia does make one list, though. It has the highest total of city/count/township bridges – 68 percent — in combined SD/FO condition.
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