6 million cars drive over structurally deficient NC bridges each day; new report says

WAKE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- More than 5,000 bridges across North Carolina are in need of repair, according to a report out this month by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.

The report found close to 1,500 bridges were deemed 'structurally deficient', meaning a key element is in poor or worse condition. This number ranks North Carolina 10th worst in the nation for the number of structurally deficient bridges. Despite the high ranking, the state has actually improved since the association's last report in 2019 when the state ranked sixth.

While an estimated 6 million cars drive over these bridges daily, they represent only around eight percent of the state's total bridges.

Steve Abbott, a spokesperson with the North Carolina Department of Transportation, said drivers are safe on these bridges.

"If it's judged the route is unsafe, it's shut down that day," Abbott said. "It doesn't really matter if it's a two-lane road out in the middle of nowhere or if it's a bridge on I-40, it gets shut down. We do not allow an unsafe bridge to be open."

Abbott said the state's roughly 18,000 bridges are inspected at least once every two years. Right now, the state estimates it would cost around $4 billion to get every bridge in good shape. NCDOT budgets around $433 million annually for bridge improvements, which means the department has to prioritize which bridges to fix. NCDOT has a goal of getting 70% of its bridges to be in good condition.

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About a third of the 25 most travelled structurally deficient bridges are in Wake or Durham counties. The most traveled is in Wake--I-40 over Walnut Creek with 118,000 daily crossings.

Find the full list of bridges here

Abbott said the top three travelled structurally deficient bridges in Wake County are already receiving repairs.

Joe Milazzo II, the executive director at Regional Transportation Alliance (RTA) in Raleigh said reports like this one help reinforce the need for investment in all infrastructure,

"Transportation is really about investment in our community, and investment in our people. And when you think about investment, it's about who lives here now, and who's coming, and both are very important. We can't just wait for the future. It can't just be about the future, but it can't only be about today. It has to be about both," Milazzo said.

RTA is part of the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and advocates for transportation improvements on behalf of the business community.

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Milazzo said making improvements to bridges, roads and airports in the area is about investing in the prosperity of the region. He said one of the main obstacles to making these improvements has been funding. He and other advocates are pushing for more sustainable ways to fund infrastructure projects in the state.

"Because we're gonna have another, if not a pandemic, some other economic downturn, there's no way to prevent that forever, even in a resilient market like the Research Triangle area, so making sure that we're thinking about how we pay for things long term," Milazzo said.

Mark Coggins, the director of government affairs at the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce, agreed.

"There is a growing body of evidence that North Carolina is not putting investment into their transportation system that we need to," Coggins said.

He pointed to a recent report by the nonprofit organization TRIP that found driving on deteriorated and congested roads costs North Carolina drivers $10.3 billion each year.

NC Chamber is leading a business initiative to improve the state's funding model and modernize transportation over the next 10 years.

"When roads are maintained and when roads are expanded and improved upon, economic development, and frankly jobs, follow that growth," Coggins said.

North Carolina is far from the only state with growing infrastructure needs.

The American Road and Transportation Builders Association's Bridge Report found one out of every three bridges in the U.S. needs to be repaired or replaced.

"I think it's alarming," U.S. Representative David Price (NC-D) said of the report. "It's a sort of thing the Engineers Association nationally has told us for a long time that we're really not ranking very well among our competitor countries in infrastructure. So these are investments that will benefit everybody. And we deferred for them long enough."

Price and others are hoping President Biden's federal infrastructure plan announced earlier this week will help kickstart some of the delayed projects.

The nearly $2 trillion plan includes funding for traditional infrastructure projects along with funding to expand broadband, increase affordable housing options and build new schools.

"It's about jobs I mean infrastructure construction, whether you're talking broadband or housing or school construction or roads and bridges, it is about jobs, particularly at this time of economic recovery," Price explained.

Price is hopeful this time some of the talk turns into action.

"I would think as the country pulls out of the pandemic, and it looks toward the future that this infrastructure plan is just what the doctor ordered," Price said.
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