Repairs on Missouri’s bridges delayed

The delay is despite a report that says nearly a third of the state’s bridges are deficient or obsolete
Friday, August 3, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:27 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA-The Missouri Department of Transportation’s plan to repair 800 of the state’s worst bridges has been delayed until September because of legal issues, said Eric Schroeter, assistant central district engineer.

The project, known as the Safe and Sound Bridge Improvement Program, involves hiring a team of contractors to design, maintain and rebuild the bridges, many of which have been found to be deficient. The Transportation Department originally planned to hire contractors by July and begin construction as early as September, the Missourian reported in May.

But the improvement program has been delayed over concerns that a performance bond, the funding required by state law, is not available for such a large project.

Wednesday’s collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge across the Mississippi River in Minneapolis reinforces the importance of the Safe and Sound program, said Kristi Jamison, community relations coordinator for the Transportation Department.

In the wake of the collapse, in which four people have been confirmed dead and many are still missing, Missouri transportation officials went to look at a bridge over Highway 5 at the Lake of the Ozarks on Thursday morning. The bridge is the only one in Missouri that is similar to the deck arch truss design of the bridge in Minneapolis, Schroeter said.

Officials have no reason to believe the Highway 5 bridge is unsafe but are inspecting it to confirm this, a spokeswoman for Gov. Matt Blunt said.

Missouri has the seventh largest transportation system in the nation but is ranked 44th in revenue generated per highway mile. The Transportation Department is trying to come up with a way to increase revenue, but no one has found a method that 51 percent of Missourians agree with, Jamison said.

“Funding is critical,” she said.

Schroeter said that the 10,240 bridges in Missouri’s state highway system, which range in size from a 100 feet to 1 mile long, were designed on a case-by-case basis to carry the traffic for that area. The state’s bridges are rated on a scale from 1 to 9, with 9 representing the most recently constructed bridges, and 1 representing those that are in the worst condition. Each section of a bridge — super-structure, deck and sub-structure — are given a rating by inspectors. If any section rates below a 3, the bridge is shut down for repair.

An analysis by Better Roads, a magazine for the bridge construction industry, found that about 31 percent of Missouri’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. More than 1,600 bridges are considered structurally deficient, meaning that the structure is in poor condition and has insufficient loading capacity, Jamison said. Another 1,223 bridges are considered functionally obsolete, which means that the structure has poor roadway alignment or clearance and width restrictions that don’t meet criteria needed for a particular area.

The enemy of bridges is corrosion. Corrosion can come from moving water, such as a river, or salt used during winter to clear ice, as these elements are hard on both steel and paint, Schroeter said..

Carl Callahan, state bridge maintenance engineer at the Transportation Department, said Missouri conducts general safety inspections of bridges, as required by the federal government. Those inspections only detect problems that can be seen with the eye, Callahan said. The federal government also requires fracture-critical inspections on bridges that could collapse if any one section of the bridge fails, which is what happened in Minneapolis, Callahan said.

There are 347 fracture-critical bridges in Missouri. An in-depth inspection involves ladders, lift trucks and a snooper allowing inspectors to get in arms length of the bridge elements. Inspections can be done annually if bridges are rated poor or it is concluded that they could become a safety issue, Callahan said.

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