When it comes to the state of our nation’s bridges, money has always been the major barrier to improving the state of our nation’s bridges. Funding, though critical – and severely lacking – is just part of the reason. It’s also about mindset: Not just waiting for bridges to fall into disrepair but also embrace the preventive maintenance approach. Kind of like fixing those squeaky brakes or going to the doctor with a small problem before it becomes a big one. It’s also about the people – the personnel. Sometimes you have to invest a little to make changes.
W. Kyle Stollings, director of the Maintenance Division for the West Virginia Department of Transportation, says that insufficient funding certainly will have a “tremendous impact on getting structures rehabilitated or replaced” but, we also need to “get away from the ‘worst first’ mentality and focus more on system preservation.”
Adam Matteo, P.E.., assistant state bridge engineer for the Virginia Department of Transportation, agrees. He notes that insufficient funding will restrict important working in the coming year – that “our desire to keep ahead to the upcoming influx of structures that will require replacement or major rehabilitation is greatly affected by back of funds and personnel.”
That being said, Matteo points, “[We] need to change the emphasis of replacing structures with the goal of keeping the good structures good through performing preventive and restorative maintenance.”
When asked in the 2014 Bridge Inventory survey if any aspect of his department could be changed to improve bridges, Matteo said: “[To] create a dedicated fund that would be used to repair and replace structures. It would be primarily to keep the structures in good condition good with a secondary goal of slowly bringing the structure in poor condition up to good.”
That pesky, perennial problem of funding remains the greatest challenge to lowering Virginia’s rate of structurally deficient (SD) and functionally obsolete (FO) bridges in the coming year, but regardless of this roadblock, Matteo says the state still expects to lower its number of SD/FO bridges (23 percent of total combined bridges are SD/FO in Virginia, or 4,816 of 21,061 total bridges in the state).
How the States Stack Up: A Look at the Top Five
1. District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.): Washington, D.C., came in this year with the highest percentage of combined SD/FO bridges. Again, like last year, the nation’s capital also expects to be able to lower its rate of SD/FO bridges. Don Cooney, infrastructure project management administrator for the District’s agency, told Better Roads last year in our Bridge Inventory survey, “all but one of our structurally deficient bridges is in the District’s ‘Six-Year Plan’ for rehabilitation or construction.” (For the 2013 Bridge Inventory, go to betterroads.com/the-state-of-the-nations-bridges.) Cooney reiterated this in this year’s survey as well. “All but one of our structurally deficient bridges is in the Department’s Six-Year Plan for rehabilitation or construction,” Cooney noted in the Better Roads 2014 Bridge Inventory survey. “Several are under construction. Only lack of funding would affect the program. Insufficient funding will delay implementing design and construction of bridge projects.”
On self-ranking scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 being the poorest), Cooney gives D.C. a 3.5. Why? “Several rehabilitation projects have been completed and 18 new bridges have been added to the inventory.” Washington, D.C., has 209 total bridges, 120 (57 percent) of which are total combined SD/FO.
2. Rhode Island: This East Coast state came in as the second highest in percentage of total combined SD/FO at 51 percent. Rhode Island reports having 757 total bridges, and 387 (that 51 percent) are total combined SD/FO. Fifty-one percent (310 out of 612) of its total number of interstate and state bridges are also considered as combined SD/FO. Fifty-three percent of its total combined city/county/township bridges (77 out of 145) meet the SD/FO classification. David Fish, P.E., managing engineer of bridge design for the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (DOT), says he doesn’t expect to lower the states of SD/FO in the coming year. That rate has held steady, though. Last year, Rhode Island also ranked at 51 percent of its total bridges being considered SD/FO. In a self-rating for how well a state’s bridges rank, on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being the poorest, Fish gave Rhode Island a 2 “[because] Rhode Island currently has the second-lowest bridge ranking in the United States.”
How is Rhode Island able to work toward improving its bridges? “Funding” is the biggest challenge in lowering the SD/FO rate, Fish says. Insufficient funding in the coming year “would prevent us from implementing more of the preservation contracts that are needed to help reduce the rate of SD bridges in the state.” Producing a list of preservation action that would qualify for federal funding would help the system of planning and maintaining bridges in this country, Fish says. In fact, Fish says if he could change any aspect of his department to improve bridges in the state, he says he would “implement more bridge preservation programs and implement programmatic agreements with regulatory agencies to expedite the design process.”
3.Pennsylvania: Coming in as the third state in the nation with the highest percentage of total combined SD/FO bridges, 38 percent (8,613) of Pennsylvania’s 22,623 bridges are considered SD/FO. Last year, 39 percent (8,752) of all Pennsylvania’s bridges (22,593) were considered SD/FO. The state has 16, 125 total combined interstate and state bridges, 34 percent (5,433) of which are considered SD/FO. Last year, 34 percent (5,530) of the state’s total 16,135 total interstate and state bridges were considered SD/FO.
At a more local level, 49 percent (3,180) of Pennsylvania’s 6,498 total city/county/township bridges are classified as SD/FO this year. In 2013, 50 percent (3,222) of the state’s 6,458 total city/county/township bridges were considered SD/FO.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is taking advantage of the public-private partnership (P3) tool that Republican Gov. Tom Corbett Jr. (governor at the time this article was written, which was before the Nov. 4 election) signed into law in 2012 to start an initiative to help improve the state’s bridges. With the P3 approach, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) says it will able to replace hundreds of these bridges more quickly, save money, as well as minimize the impact on the traveling public.(For more specifics, go to dot.state.pa.us/Internet/P3info.nsf/Bridge?ReadForm.)
For a list of the Final Rapid Bridge Replacement Project Bridge List, current as of Sept. 22, 2014, go to ftp://ftp.dot.state.pa.us/public/Bureaus/Press/P3/P3RBRBridgeList.xlsx.
As of Oct. 24, 2014, a team had been selected to replace 558 bridges through the P3 project. The team, which included 11 Pennsylvania-based subcontractors in its proposal, must begin construction in summer 2015 and complete the replacements within 36 months, according to a written statement from PennDOT. The state retains ownership of the bridges, but the team is responsible for maintaining each bridge for 25 years after its replacement. (For the official press release, go to ftp://ftp.dot.state.pa.us/public/Bureaus/Press/P3/rls-DOT-P3BridgeTeamSelect%20102414.pdf.)
PennDOT Secretary Barry J. Schoch said in the press release that this initiative reflects Gov. Tom Corbett Jr.’s “strong commitment to taking innovative steps to bring improvements to the state’s roads and bridges more quickly and at reasonable cost.” He also notes that the agreement helps Pennsylvania “take a big step to cutting further into its backlog of structurally deficient bridges.”
Pennsylvania didn’t return the comments section of the 2014 Bridge Inventory survey, but from these initiatives it’s clear that it is working aggressively toward improving bridges in the state.
To preserve bridge safety, PennDOT says that it along with local bridge owners, are in the process of adding new weight restrictions or lowering existing weight restrictions on nearly 1,000 bridges throughout the state. For the full list of bridges that will receive new restrictions or have their current weight limits lowered, go to tinyurl.com/PA-new-bridge-restrictions.
4. Hawaii: The Aloha State is No. 4 in terms of the highest percentage of overall total combined SD/FO bridges in the nation. Hawaii has 1,163 bridges in the state, and 428 of them (37 percent) are classified as combined SD/FO. Breaking it down, 771 of its 290 (38 percent) of its total combined interstate/state bridges are considered SD/FO. In terms of its total city/county/township bridges, 138 of 392 (35 percent) these bridges are a total combined SD/FO.
Paul Santo, bridge design engineer for the Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT), says he expects that Hawaii will be able to lower its rates of SD/FO bridges in the coming year. “A couple of bridges are rehabilitated, so the total number of SD/FO bridges should be less,” Santo says.
In a self-rating scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the poorest, of how Hawaii should be rated in terms of the health of the state’s bridges, Santo gives it a 3. “We have a high percentage of bridges that are deficient with insufficient funding to be effective,”’ he notes. If he could change any aspect of his department to improve his state’s bridges, Santo says it would be to “allocate more funds to improve the bridges.”
When asked to what extent insufficient funding will restrict important working in the coming year, Santo noted that it was the “same as the previous year.”
Although Hawaii ranks as fourth in the nation for highest percentage of SD/FO bridges, HDOT received a Preservation Commendation in late May for its Hawaii State Historic Bridge Inventory & Evaluation from the Historic Hawaii Foundation’s 2014 Preservation Honor Award. The effort evaluated all state and county bridges statewide built before 1968 and assessed their preservation values, according to HDOT. The agency notes that this information will be used to assist and provide guidance in HDOT’s future project development. A total of 708 bridges were identified and evaluated for eligibility into the Hawaii State Register of Historic Places or the National Register of Historic Places. (For more about this award and evaluation, go to tinyurl.com/Hawaii-historic-bridges.)
5 (TIE)Connecticut: This New England state is tied with Massachusetts and New York for the state with the fifth highest percentage of total combined SD/FO bridges in the nation at 36 percent. The state has 4,202 bridges and 1,501 are considered SD/FO. In terms of combined total interstate and state bridges, 37 percent (1,093) of the 2,951 bridges are considered SD/FO. Thirty-three percent (408) of the total combined city/county/township bridges are considered SD/FO.
Connecticut has an action plan to help improve these numbers. For the Transportation Infrastructure Capital Plan 2014-2018, go to tinyurl.com/CT-transportation-2014-18.
5 (TIE).Massachusetts: Out of this state’s total 5,162 bridges, 36 percent (1,837) are considered combined SD/FO. The interstate and state total combined bridges come in at 36 percent (1,297) of these 3,585 bridges are classified as SD/FO. At a more local level, 34 percent (540) of the total 1,577 city/county/township bridges were found to be total combined SD/FO.
Through April 1, 2014, the latest data available, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) Accelerated Bridge Program has advertised 191 construction contracts with a combined construction budget valued at $2.26 billion. (For an active project list, go to eot.state.ma.us/acceleratedbridges/downloads/ActiveList_040113.pdf.) Of the 191 advertised construction contracts, at press time, 52 have already, or will, repair/replace over 270 bridges throughout Massachusetts. Thirty-nine are maintenance/preservation projects which perform work to improve the safety of many additional bridges throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. MassDOT has declared 155 of them complete with two additional contracts terminated and the remaining scope transferred to other contracts.
MassDOT says the historic $3 billion Patrick-Murray Accelerated Bridge Program represents a “monumental investment in Massachusetts bridges.” The agency notes that this program will “greatly reduce the number of structurally deficient bridges in the state system, while creating thousands of construction jobs on bridge projects.”
MassDOT and Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) will rely on the use of innovative and accelerated project development and construction techniques to complete this program. As a result, MassDOT says the projects will be completed on-time, on-budget and with minimum disruption to people and to commerce. (For a photo slideshow of Massachusetts that are part of this program, go to eot.state.ma.us/acceleratedbridges.)
5 (TIE). New York: Also coming in at 36 percent in terms of total percentage of overall SD/FO bridges, 6,223 of the state’s 17,397 bridges are SD/FO. The state’s has 8,339 total combined interstate and state bridges, 38 percent (3,208) of which are classified as SD/FO. The state’s 9,058 total combined city/county/township bridges have 33 percent (3,015) considered as SD/FO. However, New York doesn’t expect to lower its rate or SD or FO bridges in the coming year, according to the New York State Department of Transportation’s (NYSDOT) responses on the 2014 Bridge Inventory survey. That being said, NYSDOT self-rates itself as a 3 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the poorest, in terms of condition of its state’s bridges. Why? NYSDOT says that 67 percent of its bridges are in good conditions – not SD or FO.
Funding availability will remain as the biggest challenge in lowering the states rate of SD/FO bridges, but other restrictions such as specs, contracts or time restrictions won’t affect how well the agency is able to replace or repair deficient bridges.
NYSDOT tells Better Roads in the 2014 Bridge Inventory survey that insufficient funding will “significantly” restrict important work in the coming year “since our aging bridge population requires continual investment in repair and maintenance.”
There have been 70 bridges closed in the last five years, and this year, 18 have been closed in the state because of deficiency, structural failure or collapse – but some of these bridges are slated for repair.
For the full state-by-state listing (and Washington, D.C.) of how the nation’s bridges fare, see the table on page 24.
For continual coverage on the data from the 2014 Bridge Inventory, look for coverage on BetterRoads.com (or sign up for the free daily newsletter during the work week to get the information delivered to your inbox) and in upcoming issues of Better Roads. We’ll be posting tables sorted by percentages, by numbers, DOT wish lists and the great challenges to lowering the state rate of SD/FO bridges. BR