Based on data from four years ago, we know that at least one in nine bridges nationally is structurally deficient, meaning it requires significant repairs or maintenance or should be replaced. That was partially predicated on the fact that the majority of American bridges were designed to last 50 years, and the average age of a bridge in America was 43 years. Today, that average age is 47, and we haven’t made any significant progress on this front. The average age of structurally deficient bridges is 65 years. An estimated 260 million trips are taking place daily over bridges that are deemed “deficient.” By 2023, it’s estimated one in every four of our bridges will be 65 or older.
But people tend to think of this as a problem that exists primarily elsewhere. However, a new analysis by The Washington Post allows users to examine county-by-county the bridge deficiency crisis. Nationally, 9.4 percent of all bridges are structurally deficient.
Here in North Carolina, we’re doing a bit better, mostly because much of our infrastructure is younger than what we would find in northern states. Specifically in Mecklenburg County, 3.9 percent of our bridges are structurally deficient. However, nearly 15 percent – or 95 total – are functionally obsolete. Bridges classified as functionally obsolete can’t handle the required traffic needs.
So while the majority are deemed to be in “good” condition, that still means we have 25 bridges that are structurally deficient. While most of those were built in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, a few were built in the 1980s and are already failing. For example, the S.R. 4275 crossing of Branch Duck Creek was built in 1988, yet it is only deemed 68 percent sufficient. Some bridges, like the crossing of Coffey Creek on S.R. 5469, built in 1975, have sufficiency ratings as low as four percent.
This goes to show that perhaps we need to examine all of our bridges – not just the oldest. The Post reporters did not include “newer” bridges in their analysis, making the assumption that they would neither be functionally obsolete nor structurally deficient.
Meanwhile in Buncombe County, where Asheville is located, six percent of the bridges are structurally deficient. Of the 535 classified bridges in the county, 32 were deemed structurally deficient, and 130 are functionally obsolete.
In Guilford County, home to Greensboro, 11.8 percent of bridges are structurally deficient, well surpassing the national average of 9.4 percent. Of the 651 classified bridges in this county, 77 are structurally deficient, and 106 are functionally obsolete.
Nationally, Transportation for America estimates there are more than 66,400 bridges that are deficient – and that was as of 2013. There was a dedicated federal bridge repair fund. However, Congress eliminated it in 2012.
So who is liable when bridge collapses or deficiencies pose hazards to road users? It will depend on who owned the bridge and who was responsible for maintenance. In some cases, federal agencies are responsible for upkeep. However, many are maintained at the state, county, or city level. Civil liability may fall on the shoulders of more than one entity, and of course individuals who cause crashes can still be held responsible as well.
Since claims against multiple parties are complex (particularly when one of those parties is the government), it’s imperative for those affected to seek counsel from an experienced car accident attorney.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
How many structurally deficient bridges are in your county? Feb. 22, 2017, By Denise Lu, The Washington Post
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