Friday, 6 May 2011

AAA lists top 20 NC substandard bridges

A 40-year old bridge along I-277 in Mecklenburg County carrying more than 110,000 vehicles daily is rated North Carolina’s top substandard bridge, according to AAA Carolinas. The bridge overpass, built in 1971 is the youngest on AAA’s 2011 Top 20 list of substandard bridges but is one of the county’s most heavily traveled highways.

AAA has been rating the state’s bridges since 1998 giving extra emphasis to the amount of traffic a bridge carries because of the effect on commuters and travelers. The average age for a bridge on AAA’s Top 20 is 49 years old.

Bridges in Guilford County and Forsyth County, built in 1955, came in second and third, respectively, on AAA’s annual report of substandard bridges in North Carolina. The Guilford County bridge carries I-40/I-85 Business traffic across South Buffalo Creek and the Forsyth County bridge carries I-40 Business traffic across Liberty Street.

“In ten years we have never had a bridge built more recently than 1955 top AAA’s list,” said Tom Crosby, vice president of communications at AAA Carolinas. “The heavy traffic plays a major role in the ranking, since it affects tens of thousands of commuters daily. As federal stimulus money dries up in North Carolina, we need to find new sources of funding for our state’s Department of Transportation.”

North Carolina has one of the nation’s largest state maintained highway system and is also responsible for 18,290 bridges. Substandard bridges account for 29 percent of all bridges, a 1 percent increase from last year.

Neighboring states have historically done a better job of addressing their bridge and road needs. Their substandard bridge ratios are: Virginia 26%, South Carolina 22%, Tennessee 20% and Georgia 19%.

North Carolina legislators are contemplating capping the state’s gasoline tax, which would hinder the amount of funds available to the state Department of Transportation for bridge and road improvements. Limiting the tax to 32.5 cents a gallon (it is 32.2cents currently and due to increase 2 cents a gallon in July) would cost DOT an estimated $97 million in revenue.

The state has been dealing with annual shortfalls ranging from $500 million to $351 million over the past decade. Last year, it was only able to commit $96 million towards bridge maintenance and repair. The Yadkin River Bridge carrying I-85 traffic through Rowan County has been on AAA’s list of substandard bridges for the past five years. The DOT began a $300 million project to replace that structure last year, with plans for completion in 2013.

Forsyth and Wake Counties topped the list with four bridges among the top 20 substandard bridges. Guilford County had 3 bridges in the top 20 while Cumberland, Buncombe and Mecklenburg Counties each had 2 bridges at the top of AAA’s list.

“Safety remains our top priority,” said State Highway Administrator Terry Gibson. “In a time of limited resources, we are always looking for innovative ways to fund our comprehensive plan for timely bridge maintenance, preservation, rehabilitation and replacement. We continue to work with our partners to use hard data to ensure we are meeting the state’s most critical bridge needs.”

NCDOT took advantage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act by programming approximately $12 million for bridge repairs and about $43 million for replacing 44 bridges in the state last year. This is in addition to the department’s funding of about $180 million Federal Aid dollars in the Transportation Improvement Program for bridge replacements each year.

NCDOT estimates it would cost $5 billion to replace all structurally deficient bridges. The 2010-2011 bridge maintenance budget is $70 million statewide. In the past ten years, the department has never received adequate funding for bridge maintenance, repair and replacement.

Click Here to view the 2011 Top 20 List.

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