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Ohio and the US should widen attention span on bridge safety



Published: Mon, June 3, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

Imagine the isolation and incon- venience of America without its 597,961 bridges. Our intricate network of covered, structural and suspension bridges over waterways, highways and railroads provides critical passageways for millions of us to work, schools, health care and recreation daily.

They also act as economic engines, powering about $300 billion annually into the nation’s annual Gross Domestic Product and as priceless contributors to our national security. As such, their structural integrity merits our collective and ongoing attention.

Unfortunately, that integrity continues to crack at the seams.

‘WAKE-UP CALL’ ON BRIDGE SAFETY

The dangers of structurally deficient bridges were reinforced last month when a bridge over the Skagit River in Washington state collapsed after a truck bumped against its steel framework. Debbie Hersman, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, last week called the collapse a wake-up call for America on bridge safety.

The last time America truly woke up to the dangers of unsafe bridges came six years ago, when a bridge collapse in Minneapolis caused 100 cars to drop into the Mississippi River, killing 13 and injuring 145 people.

Since that disaster, progress has been made. More infrastructure investment in Ohio and the nation has lessened the number of dangerous bridges. The vast majority of our bridges present no cause for alarm. For example, one of the most heavily traveled bridges in the Valley, the Market Street Bridge into downtown Youngstown that carries an average of 49,000 vehicles daily, received a “very good” rating in deck, superstructure and substructure last year from the Federal Highway Administration last year.

But other data indicate we have a long way to go toward comprehensive bridge security. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 26 percent of the nation’s bridges rank as structurally deficient. Closer to home, Ohio fares better. The Buckeye State scored a B- on its 2013 report card on bridge safety from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Only 9 percent of its 44,000 bridges rated structurally deficient.

In the Mahoning Valley, ASCE reports 85 of Trumbull County’s 406 bridges, or 21 percent, are structurally deficient. That’s the fourth highest rate in the state. Mahoning and Columbiana counties fared slightly better, with structural deficiency rates at 13 percent and 11 percent respectively.

A WORTHY BRIDGE-FIXING GOAL

But even those relatively low rates are no comfort to those who must travel over insecure spans daily. That’s why the ASCE has set a national goal of decreasing the number of substandard bridges to only 8 percent in the U.S. by 2020.

In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called on America to enlist in that valuable campaign. In a plan called “Fix-it-First” the president urged immediate investment of $50 billion into pressing transportation infrastructure projects, including bridge repair and rehabilitation.

Instead of funding that program, Congress reduced transportation infrastructure repair spending by $1.9 billion this year. In Ohio, the mindset on bridge safety has been nearly as myopic. Funding constraints have forced the state Department of Transportation to severely delay completion of dozens of critical road and bridge projects.

One can only hope that it doesn’t take a disaster as severe or worse than the Minneapolis tragedy of 2007 to widen the nation’s attention span on the compelling need for ongoing protection of the many assets America’s bridges build.


Comments

1Jerry(510 comments)posted 1 year, 5 months ago

Another way of looking at it:

We have already spent more than $16 trillion more than we ever had. We have made obligations to spend tens of trillions of dollars more, that we are not going to have. We have spent well over $1 trillion more than we had revenues to support every year for the last five; and we will do it again this year, next year, and the next. In just the last several years hundreds of billions of dollars were spent specifically for what were supposed to be "shovel ready" infrastructure projects (somebody was shoveling something, that's for sure).

Spending here, spending there, spending everywhere!!!!! All this spending, and yet the Skagit river bridge didn't get fixed.

So......how effective is big federal government spending????????????

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2Askmeificare(700 comments)posted 1 year, 5 months ago

I would like to jump on the "Write a letter to a government official" bandwagon, but friends, this is only the beginning of a long and slow process.

Enjoy your infrastructure as it is now. In years and decades to come I believe it will not get much better.

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3chuck_carney(499 comments)posted 1 year, 5 months ago

Jerry hit the nail directly on the head. Don't forget about all the government loans to failed green energy companies like Solyndra.

Big Government equals a big waste of our tax money.

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4walter_sobchak(1950 comments)posted 1 year, 5 months ago

There are some factual problems with this editorial that lead to misguided opinion. The bridge in Washington was not structurally deficient but was functionally obsolete due to a compromised clearance under the trusses. Apparently, the driver of the oversized truck didn't get the call from the lead vehicle. I'm sure they will find that the truck did not "bump" the bridge but hit it with a force that tore a top chord member that is normally under only compressive forces making it subject to buckling. These types of bridges have no redundancy in load-path and will always collapse in such events. Fortunately, the bridge was not a continuous truss but one of individual simple spans so only one failed.

The cause of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis was the result of an error in the original design compounded by additional design omissions later. This bridge was "structurally deficient" as inspections had noted buckling in gusset plates, which were only 1/2" thick but should have been 1" thick to allow for a stronger joint. The bridge was further compromised by the addition of 2" additional deck concrete along with excessive construction loads as the span was undergoing repairs when it fell. These spans were continuous over supports and, when one isolated member fails, all the spans collapse.

As for reductions in transportation spending, this had to happen as the Obama stimulus plan implemented to increase jobs in the construction industry was ending. Much of this funding went to "make work" type projects that were done quickly with little regard for actual necessity with respect to critical structures or highways. In other words, "pork".

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