Bridges in Illinois, nation show signs of falling down

By Matt Daray

Crossing bridges in the country might not be as safe as it would seem these days.

A study on the federal National Bridge Inventory shows that of 607,380 bridges, 7,795 in the country, 200 in illinois, are classified as both structurally deficient and fracture critical.

However, state and national engineers say the problem sounds worse than it actually is and the total number of bridges in Illinois that are acceptable or better in quality far exceed the bad.

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Grant Guthman, County Engineer for Jackson County, said out of the 49 county bridges and 87 township bridges that Jackson County is responsible for, only one bridge is structural deficient but plans are being made to fix it.

“Currently, we only have one that is structural deficient, it’s got some issue with the deck,” Guthman said. “We have one other one that was, but it’s under construction now and being rehabilitated on Dillinger Road and then there’s another one on Township Road that the road is currently closed.”

Guthman said he thinks the reason there are state bridges below standards is because different counties or townships lack the funding to repair them properly. He said Jackson County has been fortunate to receive enough funding to keep its bridges maintained.

The cost to maintain a bridge is not much compared to a full rework of it, Guthman said.

As far as the state goes, Clark Barrineau, American Society of Civil Engineering manager of state public relations, said Illinois is not alone in the country when it comes to bridge deficiencies, as the problem is a national concern.

“Regrettably, the story of Illinois is the story of our country,” Barrineau said. “Most recently, we released a 2013 report card for America’s infrastructure, which looks at 16 infrastructure categories across multiple sectors and for the bridges grade, we actually got a C+ for the nation.”

Barrineau said the report card for infrastructure is done every four years and even though the nation received a C+, it is an improvement from the 2009 grade of C. He said the grade improvement is from states taking bridge repair and reconstruction serious and making it a priority throughout the country.

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“Around seven and a half percent of Illinois’ bridges are structurally obsolete,” Barrineau said.

While structurally deficient and obsolete sound more terrifying than they actually are, these bridges are still able to be used but must be inspected more frequently than other bridges, he said.

One of the main causes for the lack of bridge maintenance is money, Barrineau said.

“Certainly funding is a large part of any infrastructure debate,” he said. “There are avenues outside of funding. There are public, private partnerships; we’ve seen strong efforts there to improve transportation or infrastructure. There are a number of avenues that people have taken to prolong the lifespan of bridges.”

Another concern is that a majority of the country’s infrastructure was built after World War II and has a lifespan of about 40-50 years, Barrineau said. The question now is whether the country is going to keep maintaining this infrastructure or create new infrastructure, both of which are viable options because some bridges are capable of being maintained for longer periods of time than others, he said.

Paris Ervin, Illinois Department of Transportation media contact, said bridges in the state are inspected on a consistent basis unless they meet exceptional quality standards.

“IDOT has a thorough inspection program that includes numerous types of inspections,” she said. “The type of inspections a bridge receives and their frequency depend on the type of bridge and its condition. The standard inspection interval for routine inspections is 24 months; however, bridges that are in less than fair condition receive additional inspections to ensure safety of the traveling public.”

Ervin said Illinois has the third largest bridge inventory in the nation and about 92 percent of the roughly 26,000 bridges in the state are in acceptable or better condition. Bridge maintenance is also a priority for the state as Gov. Pat Quinn has approved $14 billion for transportation needs from the Illinois Jobs Now capital program, she said.

Since 2009 when the program was started, 1,218 state and local bridges have been rebuilt or repaired, Ervin said.

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