How safe are North Carolina bridges?

May 23, 2013 9:00:00 PM PDT
Thursday's bridge collapse in Washington State has some asking how safe our bridges here are.

A 2010 report ranks North Carolina bridges as the 14th worst in the country.

The report put the overpass on U.S. Business Highway 64 at the beltline in Raleigh on the top ten list of the most traveled structurally deficient bridges in the state

Department of Transportation officials told ABC11 that North Carolina bridges are safe, but more than 50 percent of the state's bridges need work.

The state considers the U.S. 64 Business bridge at Interstate 440 functionally obsolete, which means it was built to old standards.

A report from a watchdog group in 2010 found the same bridge structurally deficient, which means something is physically wrong with it.

The DOT tells ABC11 that of the 13,500 bridges the state is responsible for more than 2,600 hundred, which is 20 percent, are structurally deficient. Almost 4, which is a full third, are functionally obsolete.

"We stay on top of these pretty well," said NC DOT Chief Engineer Terry Gibson. "If we have a bridge that's in bad shape, we pay a lot more attention to it."

Gibson says that's not the case with the bridge over I-440. While it is on the DOT's radar and ranks among the most traveled bridges in the state, it's not a top priority. It's not an immediate safety concern.

"We analyze every bridge and make sure they're safe," said Gibson. "That's how I'm certain everything is OK. We calculate the load carrying capacity on every one of those bridges."

Gibson says DOT engineers crawl over every bridge in the state at least once every two years, but time isn't on their side.

Most bridges are designed to last about 50 years, and that 2010 report showed more than 5,000 bridges in the state over that 50 year mark.

The good news is North Carolina lawmakers appear committed to fixing the problem.

"They put $450 million over the last two years toward bridges," said Gibson.    

Gibson says that paid for work on nearly 1,100 bridges, which upgraded more than 700 bridges from poor to good condition. However, with more than 50 percent of North Carolina's bridges still needing something done.

Gibson is putting his work and his word on the line.

"If it's open in North Carolina, it's safe -- plain and simple," said Gibson.

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