OBJECT26b010a5-ad6f-4ac6-8ab8-a7f7119510d0CLEVELAND — Hundreds of bridges in Ohio and Michigan are both structurally deficient and fracture critical, a combination that experts say is problematic.
A few of those bridges are on busy commuter routes, but most are on secondary roads that cross creeks and rivers in rural parts of the state.
After the collapse in May of the I-5 bridge in Washington state, the Associated Press analyzed data involving 607,380 bridges in the National Bridge Inventory that are subject to National Bridge Inspection Standards.
On a national basis, 7,795 bridges nationwide are structurally deficient and fracture-critical bridges, according to the most recently available federal government data.
A bridge is deemed “fracture critical” when it does not have redundant protections and is at risk of collapse if a single, vital component fails.
A bridge is “structurally deficient” when it is in need of rehabilitation or replacement because at least one major component of the span has advanced deterioration or other problems that lead inspectors to deem its condition “poor” or worse.
In Ohio, the National Bridge Inventory lists 421 bridges that fall into both categories.
In Michigan, at least 28 bridges were labeled “structurally deficient” and “fracture critical.”
The Ohio Department of Transportation, which has the most recent records, says dozens of those bridges have been replaced, closed, or repaired recently while other bridges have been added to the list, leaving 384 that are both “structurally deficient” and “fracture critical.”
Fourteen of those are maintained by ODOT, while nearly all of the rest are county-owned.
Just because the bridges have those red flags doesn’t mean that they are unsafe, said Steve Faulkner, a spokesman with the agency.
“If a bridge is unsafe, it’s not going to be kept open,” he said.
All but one of the state bridges are either set for repairs or replacement or are in the process of construction, while the other one is under review, Mr. Faulkner said.
They include two bridges on I-90 — one in Cleveland and the other in Ashtabula County — along with the Anthony Wayne Bridge in Toledo, the state’s only remaining suspension bridge, the Ironton Russell Bridge in Lawrence County, and the Hope Memorial and the Detroit-Superior bridges in Cleveland.
The Anthony Wayne Bridge, known locally as the High Level Bridge, is slated for a major overhaul to solve its structural problems.
ODOT in April awarded a $28.7 million contract to Oregon contractor E.S. Wagner Co.
Traffic is to be restricted sometime this month to single lanes while safety platforms are installed. The 82-year-old span will be totally shut down for 19 months starting in late winter or early spring so the decks can be replaced and the substructure rehabilitated.
Completion is projected for October, 2015.
Mr. Faulkner said the bridge is safe. “It just needs some maintenance to get up to certain engineering standards.”
The Ohio Department of Transportation has spent $7.4 billion on bridge preservation and maintenance during the last decade.
Maintaining all but a handful of the remaining bridges falls under the responsibility of the counties where they’re located.
“The funding has not kept up with the demand or the need out there,” said Fred Pausch, executive director of the state county engineers association. “If you don’t keep up with maintenance, it’s really easy to get behind.”
But Mr. Pausch said county engineers are well aware of bridges that are in dire need of repair.
“If the situation gets bad enough, they’ll close the bridge,” he said. “Our No. 1 job is safety.”
Ohio has about 44,000 bridges of 10 feet or longer, second most in the nation behind Texas, according to ODOT.
Of those, nearly 2,500 county bridges need to be replaced soon, according to the engineers association.
It estimates that counties need an extra $700 million to take care of the backlog.
But counties have been hit by cuts in state funding and are seeing less money from gas tax revenues, said Allen County Engineer Tim Piper.
“Bad roads, closed bridges, and bridges posted with weight limits in our communities are causing detours to farmers, school buses, and commercial vehicles servicing our industries,” he told state lawmakers earlier this year.
Michigan’s share of that total of problem bridges is low, and many are in areas where daily use is sporadic.
Most are the responsibility of local governments; only five of the 28 bridges that are structurally deficient and fracture critical are owned by the Michigan Department of Transportation, although that doesn’t make inspections any less stringent.
Three are over the Whitefish River in Alger County in the Upper Peninsula.