The State of Our Bridges
Better Roads Staff
In Connecticut, 1,502 of the state’s total 4,184 bridges were considered SD/FO (combined). For Pennsylvania, of the state’s 23,587 total bridges, 8,524 are a SD/FO combined. Despite the same overall SD/FO percentage for total number of bridges, the similarities end there. Connecticut has 37 percent – 1,079 – of its total 2,941 state and interstate bridges considered as a combined SD/FO. When ranking the states by the highest percentage of total interstate/state bridges, Connecticut comes in fourth. Total city/county/township bridges considered SD/FO (combined) are 34 percent, specifically 423 of the 1,243 total city/county/township bridges. These numbers do not put Connecticut on the short list of highest percentage of total city/county/township bridges.
Pennsylvania has 32 percent – 5,335 – of its total 16,729 total interstate and state bridges considered SD/FO. However, nearly one-half – 47 percent – of the 6,858 total city/county/township bridges are SD/FO combined.
Fixes and Wish Lists
If I could change just one thing . . .
It’s a poignant question that we asked agencies: If you could change any one aspect about your department to improve your bridges, what would it be?
Douglas E. Finney, bridge management engineer for the Delaware Department of Transportation, says he’d like to see more of an emphasis placed on maintenance, “to correct more problems before the bridge becomes deficient.” Despite hopes for a greater stress on preventive maintenance, the state has still managed to reduce its number of overall SD/FO bridges (combined). Delaware has reduced its total SD/FO (combined) interstate and state bridges from 171 in 2010 to 167 this year, also bringing its combined total number of SD/FO combined city/county/township bridges from 175 in 2010 to 171 this year.
Georgia Department of Transportation State Bridge Maintenance Engineer Mike Clements would also like to see a stronger maintenance focus. “Add more bridge maintenance positions and increase bridge maintenance funding,” Clements proposes. “Both of these have been decreasing over the last 10 years.” But he also boldly suggests that “bridge maintenance funding should increase and new roadway funding [should be] decreased.”
Washington, D.C.’s Cooney advocates that “a greater emphasis on preventive maintenance” is one of the major overhauls that is needed to the system of planning, building and maintaining bridges in the United States at the federal, state and local levels.
Bridge engineers at the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) agree. Not only is “more funding needed at national, state and local levels to address bridge needs,” but greater emphasis needs to be placed on system preservation and preventive maintenance, “to maintain structures in good condition and to slow the downward trend of structures moving into the deficient category, while at the same time addressing the deficient bridge population,” say Claude Napier and Adam Matteo, VDOT engineers responsible for bridge safety inspection and bridge maintenance, respectively.
Matteo and Napier suggest that states use high-performance concrete, high-performance steel, corrosion-resistant reinforcing steel and other high-performance material to “extend the service life of new structures as well as those that are being rehabilitated.” They also say agencies should consider jointless construction for new construction of integral or semi-integral and continuous spans, as well as the elimination of deck joints on existing bridges. “Leaking joints are a major cause of deterioration to superstructure and substructure elements beneath leaking deck expansion joints,” Napier and Matteo explain. “The use of accelerated bridge construction techniques and prefabricated bridge elements should be considered and used to minimize the impact on the traveling public.”
Additionally, they say, a systematic approach should be used for addressing bridge needs through preventive maintenance, restorative maintenance, rehabilitation and replacement, which are funded through maintenance funding and dedicated bridge funding. “A new emphasis is [also] being placed on rural bridges and culverts using Stimulus funds,” say Napier and Matteo.
Harvey L. Coffman, bridge preservation engineer for the Washington (State) Department of Transportation, proposes that the “use of preventive maintenance funds should be allowed for structurally deficient bridges.” W. Kyle Stollings, director of West Virginia Department of Transportation’s Maintenance Division, adds that complete designer control of quality assurance/quality control and serviceability is needed in contract documents. “Serviceability/lifecycle costs [are] compromised due to first cost issues.”
Alex Bardow, bridge engineer for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, says that “streamlining environmental process, public participation and ensuring dedicated bridge preservation funding” is also greatly needed.
When it comes to financing and repairing/replacing bridges in the United States, a one-size-fits-all approach shouldn’t be used, says South Dakota DOT’s Olson. “I live in a rural state, and sometimes we’re just following procedures because it’s regulatory everywhere.” This means, he says, that just because the federal government adheres to a certain procedure, it wants everywhere else to follow it, but it doesn’t always make sense financially or isn’t necessary. The funds used to follow the procedures could be better spent elsewhere, such as repairing or replacing bridges, Olson says.
John Clark, senior bridge maintenance and repair engineer for the Florida Department of Transportation, calls situations such as Olson’s “unfunded mandates.” Clark says the primary responsibility at the federal level is the interstate system. However, because funding starts at this level and because of organizations such as AASHTO, sometimes mandates trickle down to the states and even local bridges off the interstate system.
“They hold captive funding for the interstate by saying, ‘We’d like you to do something this way,’ but it’s essentially an unfunded mandate,” Clark explains. “We then have to do certain things we weren’t expecting to do and we’re not being funded for it. Their [federal] vision is from a national standpoint, which may or may not align with the state’s vision for the transportation system.” When the visions do differ, Clark says, “it can cause us to spend money that we think is not helpful or is unnecessary. As long as the DOT management accepts it, though, it’s what we go along with. But it is something I would look at.”
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