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State bridge repair needs far outstrip funding

Posted July 31, 2008

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— A report released Thursday by a University of North Carolina-Charlotte researcher says the condition of bridges statewide are among the worst in the nation.

More than 40 percent of bridges maintained by the state Department of Transportation have been deemed structurally deficient or too old for current traffic demands. That ranks the state 41st nationally, according to the study by David Hartgen, a transportation professor emeritus at UNCC.

The DOT announced a new program Wednesday to provide better oversight and maintenance of the state's bridges. Still, the amount of work needed is daunting: Wake County has 179 bridges that are obsolete or deficient, Durham County has another 79 and Orange County has 68.

Statewide, about 300 to 400 bridges should be replaced each year, DOT spokesman Ernie Seneca said. But the state has enough money to replace only 80 to 90 a year.

"There are major issues," Seneca said, noting half of North Carolina's bridges are more than 40 years old and the expected life span of a bridge is about 50 years.

"In a perfect world, you could fix them all, but that's not realistic right now with the budget constraints we have," he said.

The DOT has $1 billion to spend on bridge replacements over the next six years. Officials said they need more than seven times that amount.

Berry Jenkins, co-chairman of NCGo, a statewide transportation coalition, said he believes the legislature needs to take immediate action to provide funding solutions.

"We are getting in a deep hole quick," Jenkins said. "We're asking for big problems. I hope we never get to where Minnesota was."

A year ago Friday, a section of an Interstate 35 bridge over the Mississippi River collapsed in Minneapolis, killing 13 people. Engineers poring over the rubble found serious structural problems that should have been found before the collapse.

North Carolina spends $65 million a year to maintain and preserve bridges statewide, and Seneca said the DOT is committed to keeping bridges safe.

"We have our work cut out for us, clearly," he said.

One step the DOT has taken to help extend the lifespan of bridges is issuing tougher weight restrictions.

"You certainly want trucks to obey the weight limit laws that are out there on bridges. When this doesn't occur, there is a risk of serious consequences and failures," said Don Idol, a DOT bridge inspection engineer.

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  • whatelseisnew Aug 1, 2008

    ncwebguy - Gee I had no idea that Bush Burr and Dole have been in Washington for decades. Given your point that we are a donor state, why is it that it has not been decades that we have been having the problems with the roads?
    So far as the "donor state" status the Fed gasoline tax has always worked like that to the best of my knowledge. The problem lies not with that it lies with the Governor and the Legislature. They booked a 40+ billion dollar budget. there is plenty of money it is all in what you spend it on.

  • colliedave Aug 1, 2008

    again, the WRAL mind police zapped my comment on how the state funds projects such as the teapot museum and the Coltrane museum and underfunds paying for the infastructure. Just privatize the museums, the zoo, and all projects that are not critical to the operation of the state and see what money is "freed-up" to keep the roads/bridges in working condition.

  • ncwebguy Aug 1, 2008

    Why do people continue to lie on here?

    Our bridges are in disrepair because we have been a *donor* state to the Federal Highway Fund. Why are we paying for other states' roads? Ask Elizabeth Dole, Richard Burr, and George W. Bush. They have continued to tax gas sold in North Carolina, send that money to Washington, and send us less in return. Those are the "conservative" values that have cost this state for decades.

    The "raiding" of the highway fund is shifting vehicle tax sales that should NEVER have gone to the highway fund in the first place.

    Replacing a bridge using highway fund money would also be "raiding" since that money is supposed to pay for *new* highways, loops, spurs near Wilson and Wilmington, etc.

  • Goalieman Aug 1, 2008

    Not_So_Dumb...AMEN!!!!!

    And I bet Cary will get money FIRST!

  • UNCfuturealumi Aug 1, 2008

    if we can keep the Easley's out of the money pot (vacation spots) on the other side of the world, we may can build up some equity and repair these bridges, but don't forget they fly to their destinations where most of us have to drive.

  • Pilot Aug 1, 2008

    and kennedy missed the bridge entirely....had some money and a lawyer in his pocket.

  • Not_So_Dumb Aug 1, 2008

    "State bridge repair needs far outstrip funding"

    Hey, WRAL, how about some truthful reporting? How about "State bridge repair needs far outstrip funding ALLOCATIONS" ???

    Funding isn't lacking. We send plenty of money to the government. It is how they choose to spend it that is the problem.

  • Bob Sidel Aug 1, 2008

    and mccain supported a gas tax holiday so you could have more money in your pocket when the bridge your crossing collapses.

  • Pilot Aug 1, 2008

    OH! and how could I have forgotten the Health and Human Services, starring Hooker/Easly, fiasco? Created more millionaires for "community service" companies, than the California Gold Rush!

  • Tax Man Aug 1, 2008

    Hey Gov - just put tolls on all bridges and you can pay for this. How about a "workfare" program where those on public assistance can "work" for the DOT to repair/replace bridges? They would learn a skill, help the state and become productive. Or those on unemployment? Or all those criminals we have in the NC Prison System. We have lots of labor at no cost - let's use it.

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