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Report: Washington bridges more structurally sound than other states

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on March 30, 2011 at 11:37 am |
March 30, 2011 12:57 pm

A report out today shows the safety of Washington’s bridges continues to look pretty good compared to national conditions, at least by one measure.

A little more than one in 20 bridges in the state – 5.1 percent – are considered “structurally deficient” by federal engineers. That ranks the state better than all but five other states, and far better than the 11.5 percent national average.

Structurally deficient bridges need significant maintenance or replacement.

Pierce County is just a bit over the state average at 5.5 percent.

Transportation For America, a coalition advocating for more funding for transportation in all its modes, put out national and state reports examining the federal data and said the average daily traffic count on structurally deficient bridges in Washington is 2.9 million.

The group said Washington has done more to protect maintenance funding than other states.

The report was touted today by the state Department of Transportation with a note of caution. Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said in a statement:

I’m proud of our bridge program and the smart investment decisions we’ve made to keep these critical economic and travel corridors open. But like other states, we’re struggling to fund our backlog of preservation needs. We need continued federal funding so we don’t lose momentum and risk these lifeline bridges becoming unavailable for commerce or during emergencies.

The threat to commerce can be seen in another measure tracked by the feds but not included in the Transportation for America report: “functionally obsolete” bridges. The distinction is less about safety than about mobility. These bridges don’t have the widths or vertical clearances to serve traffic demand, or they can’t handle flooding.

Washington doesn’t look so good there. It ranks 42nd nationally in functionally obsolete bridges, according to the Washington Roundtable, citing 2008 federal transportation data.

The roundtable, an advocacy group made up of CEOs, picked functionally obsolete bridges as one of 13 “benchmarks” it will use to grade the state in education, infrastructure, tax burden and other areas. It unveiled the benchmarks initiative this week.

Here’s a list of the state’s structurally deficient bridges. And here’s the news release from WSDOT:

WSDOT’s bridge program scores high nationally

Continued maintenance and preservation funding needed to keep economy rolling

OLYMPIA – Washington state’s bridge maintenance and preservation program ranked high in a report released today by Transportation for America, a broad coalition of organizations promoting national transportation reform.

Washington is fifth highest in the overall condition of the state’s bridges, ranked 46 out of 51 when compared to the 50 states and District of Columbia.

“In contrast to most states, Washington has committed to structurally sound bridges and ensured that funds intended for maintenance are not siphoned off for new projects,” noted Transportation for America’s report, “The Fix We’re In For: The State of our Bridges.”

“I’m proud of our bridge program and the smart investment decisions we’ve made to keep these critical economic and travel corridors open,” said Paula Hammond, Washington transportation secretary. “But like other states, we’re struggling to fund our backlog of preservation needs. We need continued federal funding so we don’t lose momentum and risk these lifeline bridges becoming unavailable for commerce or during emergencies.”

Close to 70 million drivers travel Washington’s 7,700 bridges each day and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is responsible for nearly 3,250 of these critical transportation links.

The Transportation for America report notes only 5.1 percent of bridges statewide are rated “structurally deficient” according to 2010 government standards, compared to 11.5 percent nationwide. Structurally deficient bridges require significant maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement.

As these structures continue to age, their preservation needs continue to increase.

“We need close to $1 billion over the next 10 years to preserve Washington’s bridge system,” said Jugesh Kapur, WSDOT state bridge engineer. “When we delay these preservation and maintenance projects, more of our bridges will fall below federal standards and could be at risk. Delay also means the structures deteriorate quicker and the fixes become significantly more expensive.”

WSDOT inspects its bridges every two years, with a few exceptions. Some bridges with structural issues and older bridges are inspected more frequently. For example, the Alaskan Way Viaduct is inspected four times a year, including in-depth inspections every six months.

 

 

 

Jordan Schrader

State capitol reporter, The News Tribune

phone: (360) 786-1826

mobile: (360) 292-3669

jordan.schrader@thenewstribune.com

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