Nearly 40 Anson bridges are ‘structurally deficient’

Imari Scarbrough Staff Writer

August 20, 2013

Nearly 40 percent of bridges in Anson County are deficient, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation.

Of the 128 bridges in the county, 21 are listed as structurally deficient and 29 are classified as functionally obsolete, totaling 39.06 percent of all bridges in the county. Any bridge listed as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete is considered deficient.

Transportation for America released a report in July stating that one in nine bridges in the United States are structurally deficient.“With the collapse of the I-35 bridge in Washington state last month, coming just six years after an interstate collapse in Minnesota, Americans are acutely aware of the critical need to invest in our bridges as our system shows its age,” James Corless, director of TFA, said. “Today, though, there more deficient bridges in our 100 largest metropolitan areas [nationwide] than there are McDonald’s locations nationwide.”

The report ranked North Carolina the 21st worst state for bridges out of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. A full 12 percent (2,195) of the 18,280 bridges in the state are deficient, though this has improved 7.1 percent since 2011, according to TFA. An average of 7,850,103 cars travel on the state’s deficient bridges daily. Pennsylvania was the worst-ranking state with 24.5 percent of its 22,667 bridges listed as deficient.

The Minnesota wreck that Corless referenced occurred just over six years ago on Aug. 1, 2007. The bridge taking I-35 West over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minn., collapsed during rush hour, killing 13 people and injuring 145. It had been listed as “structurally deficient” in 1990 but was not replaced until September of 2008, over a year after the collapse, according to NPR.

A bridge is considered structurally deficient “if it is in relatively poor condition, or has insufficient load-carrying capacity,” according to the DOT. “The insufficient load capacity could be due to the original design or to deterioration.” A bridge is called functionally obsolete “if it is narrow, has inadequate under-clearances, has insufficient load-carrying capacity, is poorly aligned with the roadway, and can no longer adequately service today’s traffic.”

Just because a bridge is listed as deficient does not necessarily mean it is unsafe, according to Jen Thompson, the communications officer for division 10, which includes Anson County. She said that bridges are inspected every other year. While there are no bridges with similar designs to Minnesota’s old I-35 bridge, Thompson said that other similar bridges such as one in Gaston County were re-inspected as a preventative measure after the collapse. “We take safety seriously: it’s our first priority,” she said. “If there’s anything unsafe, we wouldn’t wait for something to happen. We wouldn’t hesitate to shut it down.”

Thompson said that many of the deficient bridges in Anson have an outdated design that either warrants replacement or work to upgrade or preserve it. “This is something that we’re taking a lot of funds to invest in knowing that it’s very important to address this,” she said of the state’s bridge projects. “This fiscal year 2012-13 we committed $235 million. Last fiscal year 2011-12 we committed $215 million. It’s definitely something we see a need for with over 12,700 bridges in the state that we maintain.”

Thompson said that North Carolina is ranked 13th in the nation for how many bridges are state-maintained. Some deficient bridges are widened, have a resurfaced bridge deck, repaired expansion joints or other work to upgrade them if possible while others are replaced.

Work is currently being done or is scheduled to begin on several bridges in Anson County. According to Thompson, replacement work on the Long Pine Church Road bridge over Savannah Branch in Peachland began on Tuesday and is expected to be completed by the end of January. The bridge on Cameron-Briley Road near Polkton over Cranes Creek began on June 3 and is scheduled to be completed on Dec. 27. Work is also scheduled to begin on the bridge on Duncan Road over Shaw Creek, and the bridge on Long Pine Church Road over Cedar Branch is also up for replacement.