WJTV News Channel 12 - NC bridges: Are they safe?

WNCN Investigates

NC bridges: Are they safe?

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A recent government report cited by NBC News, found 1 in 9 bridges nationwide are considered "structurally deficient."

It would cost $76 billion to fix the problem.  

WNCN Investigates took a closer look at the situation in the Triangle and found that within a 10-mile radius of the city of Raleigh alone, 29 bridges are considered "structurally deficient."

And that's just a small snapshot.  

Those numbers come from an analysis by watchdog group Transportation for America. They get their data from the National Bridge Inventory, a federal database composed of information the states send to the federal government.  

The North Carolina Department of Transportation, which is in charge of bridge safety, defines "structurally deficient" as this: 

"While the bridge remains safe, it requires repairs and was built to design standards no longer used for bridges. A bridge is considered structurally deficient if it is in relatively poor condition, or has insufficient load-carrying capacity."

However, the NCDOT does not consider "poor condition" to be enough to close a bridge to traffic. They define "critical" as the need to close a bridge.

NCDOT said that of 13,500 bridges in the state, more than 2,000 of them are considered deficient.  

Transportation for America's analysis found the average age of the state's deficient bridges to be 54 years old.  

A number of groups have done studies on the state of North Carolina's bridges, including AAA Carolinas, which took the state's numbers and found one-third of the bridges in the state to be considered "substandard."  

AAA Carolinas spokeswoman Angela Bailey defines "substandard" as a bridge that has "concerning" infrastructure but does not pose an immediate threat. Here are the percentages of bridges in area counties the group found to be substandard:

* Wake County, 26 percent

* Durham County, 34 percent

* Orange County, 38 percent

* Johnston County, 25 percent in Johnston County

* Cumberland County, 28 percent

AAA highlighted the Top 20 worst bridges in North Carolina, and some are in the Triangle.

One is the bridge at U.S. 70 at U.S. 401 in Wake County, which was built in 1952 and is being replaced this year.

And the bridge at U.S. 15/U.S. 501 at State Route 1308 in Durham County, built in 1956, is scheduled for replacement in 2021.

AAA Carolinas ranked bridges based on their condition and average weekly traffic. 

There is independent proof progress is being made. AAA says the number of concerning bridges has dropped year to year.

After this past spring's highly publicized bridge collapse in Washington State, the NCDOT told WNCN of area bridges, "If it's open, it's safe".

This week, they told WNCN there are no bridges in the Triangle region that are so unsafe they need to be shut down.

But, NCDOT has said, one accident into a bridge similar to the one in Washington State could impact its stability.

Officials did tell us however, whenever a collision happens into any bridge of any type, crews are sent out to inspect immediately.

So what is being done about the state's aging bridges?

NCDOT says they do in-depth inspections every two years.

When inspecting a bridge, survey teams assess the condition of five elements: Railings, decks, expansion joints, superstructure and substructure.

The condition of each bridge is then summarized into a statewide bridge condition rating, along with the type and extent of repairs needed, if any. A thorough structural analysis is performed and safe load carrying capacities are determined. If necessary, weight restrictions are placed on the bridge.

A total of $450 million in state funds have been invested over the past two years to replace, preserve or repair bridges, enabling the department to improve more than 1,000 bridges across the state with a focus on replacing and improving structurally deficient bridges, they say.  

Additionally, proposed state budgets include about $300 million to continue the program over the next two years. 

Search Transportation for America's data base of structurally deficient bridges in our area.

Jonathan Carlson

Jonathan is an investigative reporter and anchor with over a decade of experience. Jonathan has broken stories that have resulted in local and statewide change. Contact our Investigative Team anytime HERE. More>>

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